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What is stillness of mind? || Acharya Prashant, on Ashtavakra Gita (2016)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
32 min
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सुखे दुःखे नरे नायाॆं संपत्सु विपत्सुच ।

विशेषो नैव धीरस्य सर्वत्र समदर्शिनः।।

अष्टावक्र गीता ।।१७-१५।।

For the one of still mind, for the one of equanimous vision, there is no difference between pleasure and pain, Man and woman, good luck and bad luck, circumstantial happiness and circumstantial sadness.

Ashtavakra Gita, Chapter 17 and Verse 15

Acharya Prashant: For the one of still mind ( Sthitpragya ), for the one of equanimous vision (Samdarshi), there is no difference between pleasure and pain, man and woman, good luck and bad luck, circumstantial happiness and circumstantial sadness.

What is meant by one of still mind? What is equanimity? The mind is movement. The mind is detected only through change, only in diversity and differences, only in space and time. Hither and thither the mind wanders, object upon object keep appearing in it. There is something that it is searching for in all its wanderings. That which it is searching for, it tries to find it in the entire world around itself and it has numerous options. The world means an infinite variety of objects to be hopeful of, to choose from, to depend upon.

But why it is needed to travel here and there? Why this continuous movement? This continuous movement is because no object succeeds in providing that fulfillment to the mind which it is desperately seeking. No wealth, no relationship, no knowledge, no respectability, no pleasure, no experience succeeds. People, thoughts, ideas, experiences, places come and go and the mind is left again to contend with its primal thirst.

Things keep coming and going, people keep coming and going, relationships keep coming and going, situations keep coming and going but the restlessness remains. The more the mind is restless, the more it finds it natural to try harder, to go further, to explore more and to crave for wider experience. The hope is that maybe one hasn’t tried enough; maybe there are corners of the world still left unexplored; maybe if one tries, the next time one would be successful; maybe what one was searching for was not available in all these shops; maybe it would be available in the next shop. The promise of the next, the hope of the future keeps fueling the random wandering that the mind finds logical, habitual.

Mostly this is what happens. The more you are dissatisfied, the harder you try. But causelessly, reasonlessly, just from nowhere, a different happening sometimes transpires. Why? No one knows. Due to which the mind, instead of looking outwards, suddenly drops all hope from the external and turns inwards. It says all shops are the same. If I could not get it in all the experiences that I have had so far, for certain I will not get it even from the experiences that are further possible because fundamentally all of them are just the same. They are all just the same because I remain the same in my entire search. The seeker remains the same, the wanderer remains the same, then how can a search bring about a new result?

I am the same. I am not allowing myself to change. I take myself as the thirsty one. I take myself as the unfulfilled one and that as my self-concept I go about dealing with the world, I go about in my search for liberation. It is not a very natural realization. As we look around at the world, at the crowd we do not see it happening very often. Man’s constitution is such that his senses, his mind all are designed to rush towards the world not inwards.

The eye is hardly interested in trying to see what powers its vision. The ear is hardly interested in listening to the one who listens behind the ear. So it’s a rare thing but it does happen. There is a particular mind that turns inwards. It says. “No, instead of rushing to any corner of the world I am going to my home directly, to my center.” It goes there and it does not find what it was seeking, it does not gain what it was searching for, but the one who was seeking, the one who was searching is lost. The object which was the purpose of the search is not obtained because the search really was not for the object. Instead the searcher and the seeker get dissolved.

The inner movement is not a movement of accumulation; it is an event of dissolution. You understand the futility of your ways and you understand that your ways will continue to be the same till you are the same. You understand that even if you try a thousand other ways, you are the one who would be travelling and hence no way would lead you anywhere.

The traveler is the same, what is the point in trying a thousand new roads? The traveler is carrying his restlessness within him, how can a change of road be helpful? How can a change of environment, a change of relationship, a change of teacher, a change of country, place be helpful? How can any external change be successful when the sick one is being maintained, preserved and furthered? One is carrying some sickness in his heart, how will it help to change the clothes?

In fact the more one looks at changing clothes; the more one is deceiving himself and aggravating his disease. It rarely happens that this dawns upon the mind but sometimes it does happen and then, the mover is gone. The one who expected a lot from the movement is gone. The expectation is gone. Such a mind is called the sthitpragya , the one of the settled mind. What does this mean? Does this mind harbor no thoughts? Does this mind see no movement? Does this mind experience no change of moods? Does this mind remain in the same state continuously? No! None of these.

Changes are experienced as they were experienced earlier. It is just that now from the change in experience you are not expecting something essential. You know that whatever changes will continue to change, it is transient and it cannot really lead you anywhere. So in the middle of all change, you are now unchangeable. In the middle of all movement, you are now immovable. And since you are at a point of non-movement (Sthitpragya) so all change is now enjoyable. Change is now neither pleasurable nor horrible. Simply enjoyable.

You are where you must be. Now you are not expecting something to take you anywhere else. You are already fulfilled. You are not expecting that the next house, the next job, the next visit, the next wife will give you something extraordinary. In your ordinariness you are now very close to the extraordinary. That is the sthitpragya , the unchanging one.

The unchanging one who neither accepts change nor resists it; who is neither a seeker of pleasure nor afraid of pain; who neither despises pleasure nor glorifies suffering. Pleasure, he lets come to him; pain, he lets come to him. And when he meets them equally, they both pass through him, without leaving a trace behind. He doesn’t have ideals. He does not live by instruction manuals. He follows no religion. Let alone be dominated by the world; let alone listening to the world he listens not even to himself. He is in need of no advice. No opinions mean anything to him, neither others’ nor his own. In the middle of opinions he is opinion free. That is the sthitpragya.

The samdarshi is another name for sthitpragya . Often the word samdarshi is interpreted to mean somebody who looks at pleasure-pain, man-woman, happiness and sadness as one. No! There is a subtle difference that must be understood.

The samdarshi, the equanimous one, does not look upon pleasure and pain as one. He looks at pleasure as pleasure and pain as pain. He lives in facts, he feels no need to impose a borrowed meaning to the happening. Pleasure is pleasure, pain is pain, day is day and night is night. He will not say day is night and night is day. He will not say that cold is hot and hot is cold. Hot is hot and cold is cold.

Then what is this equanimity? What does it mean by seeing these as one? No! It is not about seeing the objects as one. Samdarshita is not about seeing different objects as one, pairs of opposite as one. Instead it is about remaining the same one in presence of the differences. You remain one as the world keeps changing. You are one in face of pleasure and you are one in face of pain. You are one when the world praises you and you are one when the world ridicules you. Something within you is not being affected. Something within you just refuses to take notice, be dominated, be stained or be obfuscated. Are you getting this?

There is a great difference. If you are being told that pleasure and pain are to be taken as one, that is a kind of deadness. A corpse feels no difference between day and night. To be equanimous does not mean that you have become indifferent. No! In fact now you are highly sensitive, highly alert. Now you have no compulsion to extrapolate meanings upon happenings. Now you can call clarity as clarity and deception as deception. Now you can call black as black and white as white. And in calling black as black, you do not let your heart become black. And in calling white as white, you do not let the white color your inner place. Black is black and white is white, and who am I? Well, none of these.

Had I been white, I could not have perceived white. Had I been black, I could have not perceived black. Which color am I? Well, probably colorless, probably all colors. I do not bother to answer. To be equanimous means to live in the pure Self. It is the highest freedom. If you do not have that, then you will find yourself just a slave of circumstances.

The winds will blow one way and then you will be carried that way; and then the winds will blow the other way and they will carry you along. You will have no inner locus. You will have no inner master. World, institutions, education, media, corporations, family, relationships, you will not even come to know, when and how they gained possession of you. You will not even be conscious that you have just become a conditioned machine.

“Equanimity is the answer of the freedom within you to all the attacks of slavery upon you.”

It does not matter what you bring to me. It can never mean anything to me beyond a point. You can bring the highest pleasures to me, well you bring happiness to me, I will be happy but there is something within me which does not need to be happy. It is already in full contentment. You bring pain upon me, maybe I’ll cry but there is something in me which is so perfect that it cannot lose anything and hence it cannot cry. In the middle of tears I will be joyful. In the middle of laughter I will be composed. This is equanimity.

Equanimity does not mean that man and woman become one to you. How is it possible? It is quite stupid. If you have physically healthy eyes then you will be able to make out the difference between a male figure and a female figure, a male voice and a female voice. It only means that all the pairs of opposites remain what they are. From the man you have no hope of support or strength because you already have it within you. From the woman you have no hope of company or fulfillment because you are already in contentment and it is in this sense that man and woman both are now one to you.

Now you can be fully with the man because you are not burdening the man with your expectations. Now you can have a healthy relationship with a woman because you are not loading the woman with the responsibility to keep satisfying you. Now you are not searching with the impossible within her. Now you are not saying that I brought you into my life so you can fill my inner hollow.

Now she is just what she is, a woman. Now you can look upon her in her actuality. Now there is a real, a healthy relationship possible. Otherwise it is just a game of images and expectations and that brings down the relationship.

Listener: While we talk about all the philosophy like we have been hearing it since childhood, talking about all the ideal things which should be. People talk about this; many books talk about this, many scriptures talk about this. So what I want to ask is, this happening which you are talking about, is it a personal journey? Or someone like you will hold our hand and will guide us somewhere, where this happening will occur?

AP: None of these. First of all just drop the notion that you have ever heard about it. What an Ashtavakra says comes from a particular point of awareness. Those words are then given and get circulated amongst the masses. Just because there are a lot of people to whom these words are now literally available, does not mean that they are being understood. By reciting a shloka for a thousand years, you do not come to the point from where the shloka originated. These words come from the deepest Samadhi and unless you yourself are there, you will not come to know what they are.

Actually what Ashtavakra seeks to communicate, to impart, is not words at all. It is just that we know nothing except words so he gives them. It is our limitation that we deal only in words. Now let that not put us in the false confidence that we have read it all and many people have talked about it. They may have talked about it but had you really bothered to enquire deeply, you would have seen clearly that it was not Ashtavakra talking.

Second thing, it is not a personal journey. It is neither personal nor a journey. It is the “personal” that is your burden. For example the opinion you (addressing the questioner) expressed about the scriptures, it was a personal opinion. All that which is personal keeps you convinced that you are a person. All that which is personal keeps you within the confine of personal. It cannot be a personal journey. A person is the one who is your burden. How can the person undertake any journey of any kind?

If you are carrying the person along in your pursuit, then it is like carrying the disease along while returning from the doctor. Now, from where the idea of journey comes? The person likes to believe that he is strayed or lost or away from home. So he conceptualizes as a journey. He says that’s where I want to reach and I am at some distance from there, so I need a journey, a road, a method etc. The person lives in the idea of separation and this idea is absolutely necessary for the person, the ego, to survive.

When the person is no more taken seriously then you say, now what is there to reach? Wherever I go, I am already there, in the infinite expanse of that which I wanted to reach. Sitting on this seat, I was so busy looking around for this seat. And I was thinking, maybe there, that’s where the seat can be found, maybe there, maybe there (pointing in different directions). Because the eyes were so obsessed with looking around that I fail to notice on what I was sitting upon, my own foundation.

There is no journey, in fact the phrase, “spiritual journey” is a contradiction, it’s an oxymoron. There can be a thousand kinds of worldly journeys; all the journeys will take you from a point A to B in the world, in the mind. But the self is not an object to be achieved, it is not a destination to be reached, the self is that which you cannot drop out even if you want to. Even when you are feeling that you have lost it totally, you still have it. Even when you are feeling that you are very far away, you are still in it.

The bird can fly to any place in the sky. It can be close or away from one particular tree, but can it, at any point, be away from the sky? The mistake that one makes is, to think the Self as a tree, as a destination, as an object. And that is because of all that which one has read, heard and many other things.

We talk of God in this way. Don’t we? God realization, coming to enlightenment, progressing in S adhna , these are the kind of phrases that we use and they make us convinced that I, the person, will one day reach enlightenment, the object. Neither are you a person nor is enlightenment an object and hence this kind of reaching is just an illusion.

L: So what I understand is that you are saying to shed the notion of “journey” and “personal” and something called “spiritual journey” and understand that you are Self, you are right now here. So what I understand is, when we talk about it, we are again talking about it, we are again asked to believe it. And you are not telling me how.

AP: See I am asking you to believe that you already believe in something. I am not your enemy to give one more belief to you. You already believe in too much. Is it not a belief to think that a method is needed? ‘How’ implies a method, a journey, again ‘how’ implies a process? Have I already not talked about the distance being an illusion? If the distance is an illusion then the question- How to travel that distance? Is it meaningful anymore?

You are asking me how to sit on this seat? What answer can be there? I am already there and now how to…

L: That’s what I forgotten.

AP: You have not forgotten anything, you just know too much. You need to forget, you have not forgotten. You look a little confirmed right now. Were you confused when you were sleeping? Don’t you see that when you wake up, it is all this accumulated spiritual knowledge that comes back to confuse you. In your sleep you are very peaceful because you are free of all this knowledge. You haven’t forgotten. You need to forget this knowledge.

L: How to forget?

AP: How would you remember?

L: It’s been fed to me since childhood.

AP: So why do you keep accepting it?

L: Because that’s how I am conditioned.

AP: No, you keep accepting it because you feel the need to accept it. Take a very direct example; you have been awake probably since this morning. Do you remember everything that has happened since the morning? If I ask you what happened at 9:23 A.M. will you be able to answer? If you go deeply into it, you will find that you remember not even 1% of every single event that has happened since this morning. So one forgets. Forgetting is natural, one does not need to ask how to forget, one forgets. The question then is that how does one remember? Forgetting just happens on its own. Does it not happen on its own? The real question is: “How something gets imprinted on the mind?” This is the real question that you should ask.

Now, what do you remember since morning? What is it that you remember since childhood? Which events do you remember? What memories?

L: Good memories, bad memories, desires, expectations…

AP: So all that which is deeply related to your ego. That which was pleasure-some to you, you remember. That which was highly painful, that too you remember. So all that which is linked to your dissatisfied ego, you remember. Do you see that? If you remember all those things that have been fed into you, it is not because they were fed into you, it is because you maintained a belief that you need to be fed. Otherwise you would not have remembered them. Otherwise they would have come to you and pass through you, they would not have become settled upon you like a layer of dust.

One retains only that. These are the ways of the ego. It retains only that which reinforces ego. Everything else it conveniently forgets. If all those words that the teachers said, that the books said, have become a stain upon the mind, a burden upon the mind, it is because the mind was just too eager to take them in. Why was the mind eager to take them in?

L: Because they showed some interest in you.

AP: Because the mind believed that there is something wrong within that needs to be corrected. And I am going to a teacher, a physician, who has the ability to correct it.

L: I think the innocent child doesn’t believe, doesn’t understand all these things. He just goes where he is said to.

AP: Yes, the child is very innocent but not still very intelligent. So he can be exploited. The world exploits a child. Which is a very violent thing actually. The child does not know what this drama is all about and you give him not only a religion but also religious knowledge. You give him so many kinds of social inputs which turn into conditions. But are you a child anymore? The child is helpless. His very physical apparatus, the brain, is not yet advanced enough to be a seat of intelligence. But are you a child anymore?

As a child we all are exploited. There is no doubt about it. But who here is still a child? Why must you still carry all those things that the kid was given? Why can’t you now keep them away? Why must you still remember all that? Once you see how harmful, how burdensome was all that, would you still want to keep carrying it? It’s a useless bag pack, why are you still carrying it? Just see the total futility of it and for that just be a little more alert, observant, towards the daily events in life.

See how concepts and ideals interfere with free-living. See how all the memories and the stuff contained in the mind interferes with the natural delight of living. And then you’ll say that I don’t want to carry it anymore. We are all fundamentally intelligent beings. Are we not? Once we see how something is harmful to us, we don’t keep it anymore. Once you see that all those memories, those loads, are not your friend then you’ll not be interested in them anymore. It is that interest which sustains them. The interest is false. It will go away on careful observation. Just be a little more attentive.

L2: Sir you very rightly say that mind has a tendency of wandering and it has a hope that one day I will be happy. But you also said that sometime it happens that it turns within and it is very rare and we dissolve. Buddha got enlightenment, he dissolved. But no one knows how. So I am very much interested in talking about this rare event. One day we will dissolve but before that there is a burden, we are chasing and still not getting it. So it is not easy for that event to happen. Then how will it happen?

AP: If it is easy, it is always easy in relation to something. What is easy for a grown up would be very difficult for a child. If it is difficult, it is again in relation to something. So it is always easy and difficult for somebody. So when you say it is easy; when you say it is difficult; you are expressing a belief in the one in the context of whom you are saying all this. You are saying easy for me or difficult for me or easy for mankind or difficult for mankind. Now till the time you remain this “me” you’ll keep talking the language easy for me or difficult for me; rare for me or common for me. Do you see what you are protecting?

L: The “me”

AP: And as long as we are protecting this me, where is the question of that rare event happening? That rare event happens when you are totally fed up of yourself. The rare event happens when you do not bother to know how it happens even whether it happens. Because even in this knowing the knower is still the “me”. That rare event happens when you are totally exhausted and hopeless.

L2: So it happens when we are exhausted, when we are completely gone.

AP: But you see in saying that it is the only way, you are still not exhausted because you have already found out a way.

L2: So it means we will not get it by any teaching. We will get it only by our own experience and wisdom.

AP: Even when you are saying this you are still not exhausted because you have come to a conclusion.

L2: Okay

AP: Even in saying okay you are still not exhausted because you are expressing a belief that you know.

L2: What is wrong belief? Pain? Why people believe on their belief, on their hope? And ultimately everybody has to be tired and dead. Why this tough way happen? Why people are protecting their ego themselves?

AP: People are protecting their ego because the ego promises something beyond itself. Had the ego come and said that I am just the ego. You would have said, “Such a valueless ,foolish thing you are. I drop you, go away.” But the ego comes to you and says, “Well I am the ego, I am a dissatisfaction who will attain satisfaction.” The ego is not only pain; the ego is a promise as well.

The pain you experience in the now, the promise is always meant for the future. But you buy the promise. The intelligent customer, after being deceived once, twice, twenty times, hundred times, says I have come to see this promise is never going to be kept. And you come to see only when you realize that all promises are the same. So, one broken promise is the fact of all promises since antiquity and still the unforeseeable future to be broken. Nobody promises you anything but liberation. The words may vary, the context may vary, but ultimately there is only one thing that you want and hence only one thing that you are promised.

When you come to see that it cannot come this way; and you also come to see that it cannot come the other way; and you also come to see that it cannot come the way other than this way and the other way; then you are stunned into cessation and you just stop.

You stop because there is nowhere to go. Now you realize that it is not about changing your ways. You the one who is deciding upon the various ways is the central problem. You realize that you cannot be the problem solver because you yourself are the problem. And then you are left with no energy to continue. And the moment you stop, there is another movement that begins.

L: Just the movement that Buddha took after seven years, saying that I am the problem and I dissolve. Is this the only way?

AP: The only way for the Buddha was to look at himself. If you are Anil, the Buddha was not talking about Anil. The Buddha was looking at his own life; he took decisions related to his own life. And those were the decisions in which he paid the highest price. He said, I am leaving the kingdom, I am leaving the wife and I am leaving the kid. That is why he was the Buddha. He was not nearly talking about others; he was looking at his life and taking courageous decisions. He was doing whatever occurred to him as the most truthful.

So the only way for you is to not look here and there. Not look at him, not look at her, not look even at the Buddha, but to look only at yourself. Even in this moment how your mind is moving, how it is coming up with words, sentences, arguments, what is it that is talking? From which centre I am operating? And when you see that the centre which is in operation will forever continue to be the centre of dissatisfaction then you will say that what the point is, I may talk of the Buddha but I’ll remain what I am.

I will keep talking of the Buddha and in talking of the Buddha I am ensuring that I remain what I am and Buddha remains a distant figure. What do we know of the Buddha? We do not know of our own lives. But it is a nice escape to talk of the beyond. Turn within. Look at how you live, look at your relationship with your neighbor, look at your relationship with your car, with your driver, look at how you feel when you look at your bank statement, look at how you deal with your wife and your kids, look at all these daily events of the life.

Do you know what looking within means? It means that I am no more talking of not seeing, because to look within is to immediately see. These two are not separate events. And if I am not seeing it is because I am determined to not to see.

L2: And why we do so?

AP: Because there is something called stupidity.

L2: And from where does this stupidity comes?

AP: This stupidity comes from the fierce resistance to the Truth in the hope of reaching the Truth.

L2: And why do we resist?

AP: Because you love the Truth a lot.

L2: And why do we love the Truth so much?

AP: Because you are the Truth. Because you are the Truth you love the Truth a lot.

L2: Then why do we resist it?

AP: You resist it because the Truth in its formlessness is not the same as what you, the form, conceptualize it to be. So, even as you search for the Truth, still you resist it because the truth does not confirm to your fancies and ideals.

You see, you want something really and deeply. You have only a faint vision of what you want really. But the mind is such that it wants to imagine, it wants to fill in colors even in a hazy picture. So, even as you search for truth and joy and peace and love, you search for them with definite ideas. You say enlightenment must look like this; Truth must talk like this; love must behave like this. The result is, when love comes to you, you reject it.

You are desperately looking for love but you are looking for a particular kind of love. A kind that satisfies your ideals. So when love comes to you and it keeps coming to you; when truth comes to you and it has a way of raining upon you; you keep rejecting it precisely because you want it so much. Well this is quite funny.

Being That, I still search for That and when That comes to me which is quite often, more often than we believe, I reject it with great resolve because That does not look like what I expected it to be. Love must be sweet, nice, comforting, caring; love sometimes can come to you in the form of a sledge hammer, something which breaks you open and when love comes to you in that form what do you do? You close your doors to love. You say, no you are not talking sweetly so you are not love.

Truth, you expect to be silent, kind, gentle; Truth can come to you in any form. The formless, free to take an infinite number of forms. And when the truth comes to you in an appropriate form, you run away from it, you run away from it looking for the Truth. What am I doing? Running away from Truth. Why I am running away from the Truth? Because I am looking for the truth. We can even call that as some kind of cuteness or if we want to be blunt, we call it stupidity.

Nobody wants anything except these basics, Freedom, Love, Truth, Relaxation. But do you see in wanting these simple basics, how we complicate life. You want the simple through complications. Well this is very wise. Or is it? You run very hard to stop.

L2: And it is very rare to stop.

AP: If I keep repeating that it is rare, am I not convincing myself that it cannot happen with me? This, that is right now is our only opportunity. There is no source to learn from except that which you are in from morning till night. The scriptures may help, a teacher may point, but you will be convinced only when you see it in your own life. And it is so easy to see because life is continuous; Twenty-four hours and immediate. You do not have to go anywhere to observe life. It is so easy.

L3: Sir, now slowly-slowly I am understanding that there is nothing so special, it’s just me.

AP: Now don’t take this conclusion too seriously. Otherwise it will become another concept.

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