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What is shame? || Acharya Prashant (2017)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
33 min
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Question: What is shame?

Acharya Prashant: What is shame? Can shame exist without ideals and comparison? Does shame cure and heal? Is there shame in love? Does shame lead to betterment? These and more are the questions we want to talk over.

Man is the only creature that experiences shame. It is a simple and direct fact that reveals so much about the nature of shame. Man is the only creature that experiences shame. Which means that there can be no shame inherent in the biological scheme of things. The child is not born with shame. Shame is a taught phenomenon. And like everything else that is taught, shame too is taught with the purpose, with the hope that it will lead to betterment.

Man is the only creature that experiences shame, and man is also the only creature that has God , and these two facts must be mentioned in the same breath. For the entire universe, the entire existence, there is no God. For man, there is the consciousness of God.

A tree or a deer has no God relative to its tree-ness or deer-ness. The God of our deer is so deep within it that it’s deer-ness does not touch God. The God of a tree is so deep within the tree that the tree-ness of the tree will not touch God. Hence, there is no God in the consciousness of a deer.

Consciousness of any being is related only to the superficial form and expression of that being. The deer is the periphery, of which God is the center. The tree is the periphery of which God is the center. At the periphery, there is only the deer and the tree, and they are alright with the deer and the tree.

The periphery is so contented with itself by the virtue of having God at the center, that it feels no need to proceed either outwards or inwards. There is no need for expansion, search, or completion. Hence, there is no God in the consciousness of any creature in the universe, obviously except man. The deer is alright. Just as it does not want to search for riches and prestige outside in the world, similarly it does not have any concept of searching for God within. Neither does it have to find anything outside, nor inside. As we said, “The God of the deer is very very deep.”

Man is a special case. He’s not contented with that which exists deeply within. Because that which exists deeply within is unapproachable to the man-ness of man. That which exists deeply within is the essence of man-ness, but man-ness cannot lay its hands on it. That which exists deeply within is the root that brings forth the flowers and the twigs, but which the flowers and the twigs can never really directly see or touch.

Man is not contended with remaining an indirect recipient of the grace that flows from the root, from the center. He’s not all right with a God seated deeply within. He must dig out God from his godly depths. He must unearth the roots. He must bring God into consciousness, into conception, into thought. So, man thinks out of God. Man builds a God.

You all have to see how all of this leads to shame.

So, now man has a God in his consciousness. Surely this God must be special, after all, he is God. So, what does man do in order to render this God special? He does the best he can. And what’s the best he can do, he allows his God the maximum expanse that he can allow within his manly dimensions. What are the dimensions in which man exists? You know that, right? Man exists in the dimension of time, space, achievement. Man likes beauty, valor, vigor, success. Man is fond of winning, acquiring, being revered. Right? These are the dimensions in which man’s world exists.

Now, man has dug-up God and brought him up superficially to his consciousness. There, to maintain the exquisiteness associated with God, God must be imbued with special characteristics. However, we just saw that those special characteristics can be given by man only in the dimensions in which man anyway exists.

So, man makes his God special. How? By conjuring up a figure that never gets defeated, that never gets tired, that is wondrous, most beautiful, most powerful, magical, indefatigable, of great proportions. Remember that these all are attributes that man anyway wants from himself. Realistically, by himself, he cannot achieve these things. So he vests all his fantasies in his God. That’s man’s God. Man’s ultimate fantasy of himself. Both ultimate and ridiculously puny.

Ultimate, because this God is the maximum that man’s imagination can go to, hence ultimate. And petty, because the dimensions in which man’s imagination operates are petty dimensions. You can cover all of a small room and you have done the maximum and yet you have done nothing. Compared to himself, in his own dimension, man’s God is undoubtedly great. But really and absolutely, man’s God is as small as man is.

So, now man’s consciousness has something to play with. Something to begin with and build upon. The God concept is the building block of all of man’s life. It is not without reason that man is a great achiever. It is because of the God concept. And it is not without reason that man remains so frustrated and feels tiny and defeated. It is because of the God concept.

Because, there exists the mighty ideal of God, hence man is motivated to go for big deeds, achieve a lot, prove himself, rise up to the skies. And because there exists the God concept, hence, man can firstly never match that concept, secondly, remains confined to the dimension of that concept. Do you see how achievement and shame go together? Do you see how frustration and shame go together? Do you see what each one of us is searching for, and how that search is only going to result in more and more misery?

Some of us are active believers in God. Some of us claim that they have nothing to do with God. We do not know ourselves. The fact is, all of human civilization, all human systems, are built on the foundation of the God concept. Doesn’t matter whether or not you actively believe in God. If you believe in society and civilization, if you have been a recipient of man-made education, you are a believer in God. You will live all your life wanting the highest. That will make you do great deeds. And that will also make you feel trounced and defeated, because whatever you will do will never be enough, after all, you are the one who has defined God as unfathomable, limitless, infinite, unachievable, beyond bounds.

Which means that if you can touch something, it cannot be God. Which means that if you can achieve something, it cannot be God. Man has put himself in an impossible situation. He must fight a war that is already lost. He must try to find a God which by definition cannot be found. He must try to reach a place that by definition is out-of-bounds for him.

So, man tries, and these attempts have given us what we call as the fruit of human thought endeavor, science, and philosophy, and parallelly they have also given us the annoying feeling of shame and guilt.

It’s almost like a game of cricket in which you are chasing an infinite target. Chasing an infinite target you do your best, you score a lot of runs, you are compelled to score a lot because the target is infinite, you must score briskly, you must keep moving, you must never be satisfied, you must make the best use of every opportunity, and the target is so mammoth. And irrespective of how well you play, irrespective of how dedicated you are, the result is pre-decided. You are going to lose, and you are going to lose by an infinite margin. Doesn’t matter how hard you have tried, the result is always the same and the margin of defeat is always the same. Infinite.

Two things happened. One, you play really hard and man has been playing really hard. You set your ideals really high. You remain occupied. You constantly feel challenged. You have no reprieve, you are always at war. You have to be inventive because your existing methods never suffice. Man has been doing all of this. And you are always frustrated because irrespective of your efforts, the result is always the same. In fact, with the intensity of your efforts, the depth of your frustration keeps increasing.

Do you see what shame is? “The harder I try, the harder I fall.” Do you see where it arises from? You’re not playing, you are playing against a target, and you have dreamt up that target. Existence has not given that target to you. The target is a figment of your own consciousness. That target is nothing but the God concept. Man worships God and man rivals God. In fact, you cannot worship anything given what you are, without competing with it.

This rivalry is sometimes called as Bhakti. What else do you think are most of the devotees doing when they say that we want to reach God.? They are saying, “Why must that high abode be reserved for you, we too want to reach there? If you can be there, we too can come there.” And that would always happen whenever you will have something located within the expanse of your own dimensions. If something is within your own dimensions, even if infinitely far away, you will be tempted to reach that thing.

So, man tries to reach God. Man tries to reach the highest, the ultimate. Man tries to become Superman. Man tries to become a hero. Stay with this, you will see where all of this is coming from. No creature in existence tries to become anything. Only man is fond of deity worship. Only man idolizes. Only man is fond of looking at himself in the mirror and marveling at his own reflection. Are you getting it?

As you are born, you set up a competitor for yourself, and all your life you spend in trying to live up to that competitor. Who is that competitor? God. The absurdity of the whole thing is, you have by yourself defined the competitor as unconquerable. You are trying to reach a place that you have defined as unreachable, but that gives you something to live for. That gives you something to remain occupied with. Not something, a lot actually. Which means that now life has a purpose. Now you can never be left alone. Which means that now you are spared the trouble of relaxation. Which means now you are spared, the trouble of meditation.

Now you do not need to dive within to go to God. Now your God is with you, a shallow God. When God is already on the surface when God is already in the consciousness, why does one need to dive deep, why does one need to go within. Why do I need to find God, I already have the God concept. Yes?

And one fights and one quarrel in various names – Worldliness, science, exploration, war, and spirituality. One fails and fails, and one succeeds and fails. Doesn’t matter whether one succeeds or one fails, shame is a certainty. Irrespective of the result of your endeavor, you never get what you aim for. The result is shame. Man is not small but is definitely billeted upon comparison. This belittlement is shame. And you never compare yourself to anything or anybody else except God.

If man has one problem, the problem is God. Remove the God concept and you will be healthy.

We do not know what beauty means, still, we are hell-bent upon declaring ourselves ugly. How? Because we have a benchmark concept of beauty. Against that benchmark, we appear less beautiful, and hence ugly.

We do not know what Truth is, yet we are intent upon declaring ourselves false. How? We have a cooked up Truth, and against that cooked up truth we necessarily appear false.

We do not know what taste is, but we have condemned ourselves as tasteless. How? We have a concept of taste that no possible delicacy can live up to. And hence everything is unsavory, tasteless, as tasteless as our life.

The real can be known only by digging deep. What beauty is, what Truth is, what taste is? These are knowable only when one digs deep. But why must one dig deep when that which is deep has been served on a flimsy platter. The guy is three years old and he’s already being told stories of godhood, mind you, stories of godhood, and the guy is three years old. This is a crime.

He’s not being introduced to life. He is not been taken to markets and trees and hills and rivers and men and women. He’s not being exposed to the ups and downs to the various vicissitudes of life. He’s being just served a story, a quick and dirty story.

Where there is imagination there would be competition.

Go into this. If you can imagine something, it is impossible that the thing would not seep into your attempts. You watch a person behaving in a certain way, and that way before this moment might have been alien to you, but having watched that man behave that way, the gates have now been opened for you to try. Trying against a benchmark is competing. Man has set God as the benchmark. God that weighs man’s biggest competitor, and rival, and threat, and tormentor.

You are not ugly, but God makes you look ugly. And then you are ashamed of yourself. Ever seen a little insect and seen the mighty statues of your gods, how does the insect compare with your gods? It’s a relief that the insect has no God. The insect would simply go and perch itself upon the statue as it does upon any other normal stone.

How do you know that there is something wrong with you? How? Obviously, no decision of ours is an absolute decision. Surely it is coming from some center. If you say that there is something wrong with you, it is surely in relation to something. If you say that you are suffering, how do you know that it is an unwanted situation? Please.

You dislike pain and turn it into suffering because you have defined God as absolutely joyful. So, there is that imaginary state of total and uninterrupted bliss, the state that you call as godliness. And if that state indeed does exist, the mind asks why am I barred from it. The moment pain comes one resists it because now the concept of uninterrupted bliss is present as a benchmark. If uninterrupted bliss is indeed possible, why am I being denied that? Pain turns into suffering.

Every quality that man has vested in God, is a quality that man wants for himself. Which were all right had there really been the paucity of something in man’s life. If one is really living in deficiency, then it makes sense, probably, to ask for more. But what if one has never had the occasion to really figure out what deficiency and immensity really are.

One does not know how much one has and is asking for more and more. It’s like pulling up into a petrol pump, not knowing how much fuel your tank already has, not even knowing what is the maximum capacity of your tank. But because you have the great God ideal in front of you, the ideal of fullness and largeness and greatness and immensity, you tell the service guy there to fill in 500 liters. How much do you have? How much can you take? But you will be paying for 500 liters without being able to take in even a fraction of it. The attendant at the pump will do what he has been told to, he will sell you 500 liters.

All his life man keeps paying for stuff that he does not need. That he cannot even hold.

Your vehicle could possibly hold five liters more compared to what it already had, and you ended up paying for 500. That’s the story of man’s life. You are busy asking for what you do not need at all. You are killing yourself trying to get that which you cannot use even if you get it, and which will be a big headache if you get it.

500 liters is what you have ordered, what if he brings all those gallons, and asks you to carry them. All his life man keeps carrying stuff that he does not need, just to overcome his feeling of shame.

If I ask only for 5 liters, what a miserable beggar am I. “5 liters, am I so small, look how large God is, at least 500 liters I should ask for.” And then you carry those 500 liters. One day you just end up immolating yourself using all that fuel.

How many liters are we carrying?

The ant dreams up an elephant, throws away its little crystal of sugar, and guns for a 10 feet high rod of sugarcane. What will the ant get? So which sugarcane are you gunning for? My mighty rod. Has to be at least 10 feet. The only thing that relieves us from continuous shame is death. There are people who have high self-esteem and there are people who have low self-esteem, but wherever there is self-esteem, invariably there is shame.

High self-esteem is never high enough. If you are not actively experiencing shame, then shame is just lurking around the corner. If you are not experiencing shame in one dimension, then there is some other dimension that is just waiting to pounce upon you and terrify you and ashame you. This urge to know oneself, this quest for self-knowledge, is man’s bane.

In the name of self-knowledge what we want is a definition of the self. The moment you get a definition for yourself, there is all the tendency and the incentives to compare yourself to the maximum that the self can be, and that maximum is called God. The only possibility, the only solution then, is to quit God. To leave the root to belong to the depths. The leaves must sing of sunshine, dance in the wind, talk of colors. It is not becoming of the leaves to talk in the manner of roots. To behave with the firmness of roots, the leaves must have flexibility, the leaves must have tenderness, the leaves must be temporal. It does not befit the leaves to seek the immortality of roots.

Leaves must be leaves. And roots must be left to themselves. Man must be man. And God must be left to that core of man where man-ness does not exist.

In fact, even to call that core as the core of man is not right, because as we just said, at that core man-ness does not exist, so how can that core be the core of man. That is just simply ‘the Core’. That core is God. God is that core. Man has no need to venture into that core, just as the leaves have no need to venture down to the depths of the roots. Why act so impatient? Why act so petulant? The roots are anyway making themselves felt. Where else is the leaves getting its sap from? The sap is the proof of the root. Why is there such a hurry and the pressing need to get a sensory and a mental proof of the root?

You know what this impatience indicates? This impatience indicates that one is not interested in God. One’s chief devotion is not towards God, one’s chief devotion is towards the senses. Because what one is longing for, is a sensory proof of God. One does not want God. One wants to see God. One wants to experience God. One wants to touch and feel God. If you look carefully, then your primary loyalty is not towards God, but towards experience, seeing, touching, and feeling. Your primary loyalty then is towards your senses, not God.

You are not saying that you want God, you are saying that you want to see God. Even if you don’t use that word when you say you want God, what else do you mean? If you indeed do get God without experiencing God, would you be satisfied? You don’t want God, you want the experience of God, which means that your basic loyalty is towards experiencer. Really, the experiencer is the God that you worship, and that is called the ego.

When I am saying man must quit God, I am saying that man must quit this urge to experience God. This urge to experience God comes from having a definition of God, and it is from that definition of God that shame arises. Do you see that search and shame are two sides of the same coin, they arise from the same source?

If you are ambitious, you are someone who is ashamed of himself, it is certain. If the world is a battleground for you rather than a playground, you live in shame, it is certain. Shame is a feeling of being godless when you actually are not. Hence, one does not know whether to laugh at it or cry about it. Shame is an imagined feeling of smallness. You imagine yourself to be small because firstly you have imagined a God that is gigantic. Do you see this?

By having a God concept, man loses out doubly. Man loses out on God, and man loses out on himself. Man fails to know what the root is, and man also fails to know what the flower is, what the leaf is. Both remain unknown.

There is only one way to perfection. Get rid of your concept of perfection and the quest for perfection. Imperfect is greatly perfect, but that perfection is lost when you start comparing the imperfect to the perfect. Man is not to be compared to God. Man lives in God. God is not to be seen as a superlative extension of man. Don’t imagine perfection, and imperfection is greatly perfect. Imagine perfection, and then even the utmost perfection is so very imperfect. Straightforward, direct, as it is, that is life.

Would you have troubles if you were not carrying an idea of what it means to be trouble less? Would you ever find anything missing had it not been for the idea of how things should be?

You set out to become God and end up making an idiot of yourself. The biggest idiots, if you ever come across them, are surely the ones who are great fans of God. They will do a lot of things that make them look extraordinary because God is the epitome of all extraordinariness.

Isn’t God extraordinary, a fellow with eight hands, a fellow that is omnipresent, omniscient, and immortal? God is so extraordinary, and that is the reason why we have so many of us who are not satisfied with their ordinariness. And what does then man do to become extraordinary? Man becomes an extraordinary idiot.

Someone keeps an extraordinary beard, someone gets into extraordinary habits. These people might not consciously know how devoted they are, but these are the real B hakts . Their Bhakti knows no limits. All the time they are chasing the ideal of God. God does things that are impossible to a normal human being, so man also starts doing things that are impossible to any normal sane human being. Like piercing one’s tongue, for example. This is nothing but man’s God worship.

Visualize an elephant piercing his tongue or lips or other body parts. Only man can do that. It’s a very difficult question to answer, is man greatly intelligent or supremely idiotic?

L: Sir, any spiritual guru, be it Osho or Adi Shankaracharya, they talk about supreme bliss. Like you are talking about pain and stuff like that, about comparison with the bliss, that the mind says that I’m not in that state and hence suffers. So is there nothing as complete bliss? Or will there always be a duality which will remain? And then who is saying this, because mind may not like certain things…

AP: There is only the mind. There is only the mind that says, that hears, that interprets. And therefore I do not like the mention of supreme bliss, or the talk of immortality, or all the other extravagant virtues associated with godliness. Talking about anything associated with godliness is an absurdity.

Words by themselves are small little containers, and yet some speaker is trying to use these small little containers to talk of the infinite. It leads to chaos. It has led to a lot of confusion and misery. Far better than that is to simply leave God alone. Let the leaf be leaf. Let the root be root. They are any way connected. Words will not connect them anymore, any deeper. Let the roots be held to the soil, let the leaves dance around in the wind, they are any way connected even as they appear so distinct, unrelated, even opposite.

When you try to connect them through words, you are attempting the impossible. Man’s connection with God cannot be through words. Words are not a bridge, they are a barrier. In normal day-to-day conversation, words may offer some convenience. When it comes to godliness, words are simply a barrier. It is not without reason that the Upanishads talk of Bhrama as the one who cannot be given any U padhi , as the one who has no attributes. Why then talk of supreme bliss and such things?

One is just raising a specter. One is just entertaining himself with a pleasurable dream. And in entertaining oneself with the pleasurable God dream, one is escaping from the facts of his bodily and worldly living. As one lives, one is pestered, annoyed, irritated, jealous, and yet one has words “supreme bliss”. It does not make sense.

A few things must not be seen. It is a bad day for the tree when its roots become visible. If the roots can be seen, it means that the tree is close to death, it has been unearthed. Don’t try to have sensual, sensory experience of the roots. The leaf is enough.

If you are told that a particular dish tastes very good, don’t you start celebrating? Someone is describing the taste of the dish, remember that he has not said anything about you, he is only talking about the dish, he is just describing that the dish is heavenly, and such things are put in it, and finally he says it offers supreme bliss. But see who is celebrating. Who is celebrating?

The one who is hearing all this is not merely hearing about the dish, he is hearing about the dish in his own personal context, therefore the celebration, therefore the desire.

So, you might be talking of the supreme bliss of godliness, of enlightenment or whatever, but what is the effect it will have upon the one hearing your words, he takes the dish as available to himself and starts salivating. Do you see what is happening? Now that is an impossibility. Enlightenment or realization is a disappearance, not gratification. But when you hear words like supreme bliss, they gratify, they make you feel good, they make you salivate. “Wow, supreme bliss, how can I have it, in which shop is it available.”

Is enlightenment about gratification, feeling nice, salivating at the idea of uninterrupted pleasure? That’s what happens. The speaker might be talking about the dish, but the listener is listening in his own world, associating the dish to the possibility of his own gratification. And then there is a problem.

L: Sir, if I’m a lazy person, then supreme bliss to me will be like supreme laziness.

AP: Yes yes yes. Well said. Well said. The moment you utter the word “supreme bliss” to a lazy person, he immediately raises a dream. Heaven is a place where one gets to sleep for as long as he wants to. Let’s give everybody the freedom to speak out their mind and write down their concepts of heaven. Your concept of heaven will be you, that’s what your supreme bliss is all about. And that’s where spirituality becomes so dangerous.

Have you seen men utter the words ‘God’ or ‘heaven’? Have you seen when they utter those words? A beautiful model is walking down the ramp, displaying an exquisite attire, and the audience is ecstatic. One guy shouts, “Oh my god!” the other one shouts, “sexy.” Do you see what God refers to? The fulfillment of your desires.

Your God is what you are.

There are so many people, sexually aroused, they start parroting God God God. That’s what their concept of heaven is. Heaven is a place where orgasm is in the air. You can take in as much of it as you want to and for free. All you need is a long nose.

That’s why one of my important messages is, “Leave God alone”. Someone plays a fine square drive and you say ‘Oh my god!’ Or, you sleep and hurt your hip, ‘Oh my god!’, spare God.

An idiot, even if he gets God, remains an idiot with God. Because the idiot was anyway never prepared to change himself. Remaining himself he wanted God. He got what he wanted. He remained an idiot and he got God. So, now he is an idiot with God.

And we have lots of idiots with God. You will find it mesmerizing how you can obtain almost everything that is obtainable, and yet remain yourself. You can even obtain a lot of peace and yet remain an idiot. You will then be a peaceful idiot. All the qualities and virtues that are associated with God, can possibly be obtained without affecting your artificial core. You can start talking wisdom. Now you are a very wise idiot.

By practicing a lot of yoga you can have a glow on your face, now you are a glowing idiot. Or, you can have a well-sculpted body, now you are a well-sculpted idiot. Have you not seen people who are doing all these godly things since years, so their face is radiating, a divine bliss, locks, and hair are bouncing, there is spring in the feet, tummy is nicely tucked in, not even a trace of fat in the body. Divine idiots.

You can remain an idiot irrespective of what all you have obtained, and you can really obtain a lot. Obtaining anything, and obtaining everything, will have no effect upon what you are determined to remain. Determined to remain an idiot, you can still obtain everything. You can obtain all the knowledge of the world, knowledgeable idiot. You can even start acting in the most loving of ways, a very loving idiot.

When the removal of idiocy is a process of removal, then how can addition lead to removal? There is this tumbler kept on this table. I may add five more things to this table, will that lead to the removal of this tumbler? Removal is simply removal. Addition of thousand things will not lead to the removal of this one thing. So you can keep adding things to the mind that will not lead to the removal of idiocy.

The idiot remains an idiot irrespective of what all he has gathered, be it supreme bliss, be it all the divine knowledge, or anything else. So, never judge a man by what he has, see what he has not. As Chuang Tzu says “Whether or not his boat is empty”. Yes?

So, what do you have?

Just say, “It does not matter.”

Okay, so what do you not have?

Just say, “How do I know? If I don’t have it, how do I know about it?”

And that’s the only right answer to the question “Who am I?” or “What is God?”.

What is the right answer? “How do I know? Who am I to know? “

Anything more than that is simply stinking cleverness.

One must just start and remain with the leaves. The roots have a way of showing up. When we started we were perspiring, when we started it was hot, I would have used my handkerchief many a time, at least three times I emptied the water here, but we continued, we continued and we said “We don’t want to talk about God. Leave God alone”, and now it’s raining.

When you leave God alone, God has a way of showing up. When you talk too much about God, God says “You already know so much. Why do I need to now show up?” It’s suddenly pleasant. We didn’t ask for it, we just did what we could, in our own small, limited leaf-like way, we went where the winds took us. And the roots did what they had to, and they did that without our prayers, without our demands. It’s raining. It’s nice. No one seems to be sweating now.

Rest assured, have faith. Leave the roots to themselves. They know what to do. They know what to do. You don’t have to feel so insecure as to dig into them and inquire them and bring them up and make everything shallow and superficial. A few things belong to the depths, let them remain there. You do not need to dig them up to your consciousness. Your consciousness is a very shallow thing. Thought exists only up, like the waves. Rises and falls. The gems the pearls, do they belong to the waves or are they found in the depths?

L: Sir, there was a story in which monkeys were given to water plants. And what monkeys did, they uprooted the plants and started watering them.

AP: These are the kind of stories that we need. We don’t need God stories. This story is a godly story, precisely because it does not contain God. Trying to contain God is a mistake, big mistake. Which container will you bring large enough to contain God?

However, godliness can be there. Godliness is like perfume. The story can have the aroma of God. It cannot contain God, but it can smell of God. You see the difference between these two things, something containing God versus something having the aroma of God. Aroma of God is possible. It is not only possible, it is pervasive. But containing God is impossible and highly egoistic.

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