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What is the Self and the non-self? || Acharya Prashant, on Avadhuta Gita (2016)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
24 min
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येनेदं पूरितं सर्वमात्मनैवाअत्मनात्मनि । निराकारं कथं वन्दे ह्यभिन्नं शिवमव्ययम् ।।२।।

yenedaṃ pūritaṃ sarvamātmanaivātmanātmani । nirākāraṃ kathaṃ vande hyabhinnaṃ śivamavyayam ॥ 2॥

All that exists in the world of forms is nothing else but the Self, and the Self alone. How, then, shall the Infinite worship Itself? Shiva is one divided Whole!

~ Avadhuta Gita (Chapter 1, Verse 2)

Question: Acharya Ji, Pranaam! Please explain these lines from Avadhuta Gita.

Acharya Prashant: These lines are not uttered by the common mind, the one we see all around us. Dattatreya is saying, “All that which exists is the Self.”

The mind is programmed to see diversity, the mind is programmed to see differences. When you open your eyes and look around, there is no Oneness that you see. You open your eyes, and all that you see is different forms, different colours, names, things, and objects. The entire world in which things are known, is only because they are different from each other.

That’s why it is the world of duality.

Now, for the ordinary mind it is quite sufficient – “Alright, here are differences, here is the world, and here is diversity. It’s okay.” The mind adjusts to this and even calls it ‘the reality’. So we say, “The road is real, the bird is real, the river is real,” and ultimately we say,”I am real. If everything that is different from everything else is real, then I too am real.” And it experiences no problems. We say, “This is alright. All these things are there, and they are real.”

But there is a different mind as well that has totally different quality. When it wants to call something as ‘Real’, it wants to be fully assured of what ‘Reality’ actually means. It cannot call something as ‘Real’ which appears today, and disappears tomorrow.

When this mind, this Authentic mind, this Faithful mind, this Honest mind says, “This is Real, this is Truth,” then it places its entire trust in that thing. It does not live in compromises. It says, “Now that I have called something as ‘Real’, it must not deceive, it must not betray, it must not disappear, it must not simply turn into something else.”

That is the test of ‘Reality’.

And how do we live? How does the so-called common mind live? You come across someone, and you feel a heated passion for the person, and immediately you declare, “My love is real.” And what happens to that love after two days? It subsides. It is no more.

A man like Dattatreya would have none of this. He cannot tolerate this. If he has said, “Love is real,” then this Love cannot be dependent upon the whims of time. Once called as ‘Real’, it must not disappear.

That is the test of Truth. It cannot disappear, it cannot become something else, and it cannot go away.

The common mind says, “No, it is alright. Today it is there, so today I am calling it ‘real’, and tomorrow it will not be there so it will not be there.” Even that argument could have been palatable had the disappearances made no difference to you. But the fact is that, when that which you call as ‘love’ today becomes repulsion or indifference tomorrow, then you do feel hurt. It is not that as if it does not matter to you.

Now this is double humiliation.

Firstly, that which you thought of as existing, as genuine, as real, and as truth deceived you, is no more there. So, it is proven that it was not the Truth. And secondly, when it has gone, it has left a scar on your mind. And every such disappearance is one more wound on the self, on the psyche.

Dattatreya is not one of those who will accept such things easily. So, he says, “Alright, let me find something which is not time dependent, let me find something which does not change, let me find something which is not a product of time.” So he looks around, and that is the beginning.

The looking around can only happen with the senses in the beginning. And he finds moon, stars, and those things that have been there since ancient times. He tries to find Immortality there. But even there he discovers that disappearance is happening. It is just a matter of the length of time. Doesn’t matter how long it will take for the thing to disappear, but it will go away.

Even the Gods disappear.

So, he says, “No. Even this won’t do. Whatever I can touch, feel, sense, see, think of, or imagine is just so vulnerable, is just so fleeting, it has no life really.” So, then he finds something common in all this diversity.

He says, “There is at least one thing that is common in all this that appears different. The road appears different from the tree, the tree appears different from the bird, the bird appears other than the fruit, and these are objects, and so are ideas. Every idea appears different from the other one, every thought appears separated from the other one.

But there is one thing that runs common amongst all of them. And what is that ‘one thing’? They disappear. They disappear and hence, they are unreal. So, he says, “Alright! This world of forms, shapes, names, colours, appearances, I will not call as ‘diverse world’. I will call it as ‘one’.” But right now he is not calling this world as the ‘Pure Self’. He is calling it as ‘unified in its fakeness’.

It is one. How is it one? It is one because it is all, and unreal. You all are one. How are you all One? You all are one in the sense that none of you are real. So, all of you are one.

Now, he has reached Oneness.

‘Oneness’ only means that one has come to the root of the ego. The common mind sees only the branches, twigs, and leaves of the ego which is – you, me, thoughts, ideas, rivers, stars, things, roads, equipment, all this and that. To come to the root of the ego is to come to the root of falseness. That is Oneness. That is Unity.

So, wherever he looks around, he doesn’t have to give names. He says, “Oh! It is That. This too is That. That too is That. Within is That, without is That. Near is That, far is That.” Let us be reminded that he is still not saying that this That thaat he is referring to is – Truth, Pureness, or Atman. He is saying, “All of this is one in the sense that – it is not.”

So, now he lives an unburdened man. He doesn’t have to remember much. He doesn’t have to say, “A, B, C, D…,” because he knows that all A, B, C, D… right till Z are just one in the sense that, they are nothing. S he doesn’t have to live out of the load of his memory.

He can live freely.

Having reached that unified root of the ego which you can call as the ‘central tendency’, or the aham-vritti, he cannot stop there, because he is a man of Truth. He is a man of Truth, and he has reached the root of falseness.

Now, if the twigs, and branches, and the leaves and the fruits are false, surely the root too is false. How can he stop at the root then? The root of this false world has to be a false root. So this oneness is surely a false oneness. He cannot stop there. He says, “What to do with it?” The answer comes, “What to do with what?”

He says, “What to do with this falseness?” The question again comes, “What to do with what?” He says, “Falseness.” Now in reply, just a smile comes. And Dattatreya being who he is, the smile is sufficient.

If something is false, what is the point in remembering it? What is the point in interpreting it? If something is false, it by definition does not exist, it by definition has to be forgotten. So, he forgets even that.

Do you see what he is doing? First of all he forgets the diversity. In diversity he finds a commonality, that commonality is ‘oneness’. That commonality is the root of ego. And then he forgets the root also, because the root of falseness is bound to be false. And if is false, then what is the point in sticking to it? What is the point in giving it importance? So, he forgets that also. And that total forgetfulness is pure consciousness, is pure Self. Now there is nothing.

Now, he is saying, “All this is the Self.” Now ‘all this is the Self,’ must not be interpreted to mean that the wall in front of us, or the tree out there is the ‘Self.’ Man has made that mistake since ancient times. All of that is the ‘Self’ only in the sense that all of that when forgotten, what remains is the Self. It is not a direct statement. It is not an assertion of ‘form’ being representation of the formless, not at all.

Dattatreya offers us freedom from the tyranny of forms. He will not entrust, or imbue the forms with divinity. It is another matter that when one has totally unburdened himself of the importance of forms, then forms mean nothing, and then there is no expectation from forms. And when there is no expectation from forms, then life is simple, and then life flows. This flow is divine.

Dattatreya is seeking to liberate us from all that which we can see, sense, conceptualize, and think. He is not asking us to become more attached to the same, by way of worship. Do you get this?

Does listening happen when one is deeply asleep? Does listening happen even when one is full of other thoughts? If that which is temporary could hear, then the body would have heard even when it is deep asleep. Surely the one who listens is not the temporary one. If the temporary one would listen, it would only listen to something which is temporary. Words are temporary, words come and go. Words are vulnerable to interpretation. So the one, which is temporary, which is the body, which is the brain and the mind, can surely hear. But what would it hear? It can only hear that which is temporary, and hence useless. If you are really listening, then you are not listening with the ears. The ears are temporary. If you are really listening, then you are not listening to this body, because this body is ephemeral. But if you are listening through your ears to this body, they you are not listening at all. Then all that is happening is the accumulation of knowledge and information. And all knowledge and information is so very temporary, so time dependent, in fact knowledge itself is a product of time.

That is the consequence, and danger of living in forms, living in images, living in idols, of living and worshiping a particular shape, whether in the name of Prem, or bhakti . You start loading forms with that which forms cannot carry. You start trying to listen with your ears that which the ears cannot listen. You start trying to find in bodies which bodies cannot carry. And when you do not find it, you become disappointed and agitated. You’ll never find it. And when you will not find it, you’ll find that you have made frustration your destiny, or some kind of hypocrisy. In spite of not having found, you would want to claim that you have found. And if you claim it loudly enough, if you might convince a few people, which is quite unfortunate, because you mislead them that way.

Do we understand why we have such a deep-rooted stake in calling the world as real? The stake is that if this world is not real, then this seat, this chair, or this sofa too cannot be real. And if this chair cannot be real, then the body sitting on this chair too cannot be real.

So, in calling the temporary as false, I will be compelled to call myself and my notions of myself as false. Now, to that I am greatly attached. Had it been just about calling ‘this and that’ as false, one could have easily accepted. The trouble is—when I call this, this, this and this (pointing at different objects in the room) as false, then along with all of these I must call myself too as false. I cannot say, “The earth is false, but me who is sitting on the earth is true.” Now, to call oneself as false is a big jolt, a big insult to the ego. All that the ego wants is to be certified as truth. That is the ego’s only desire—to take the place of truth and god. So it can accept anything.

You see, there are two possibilities—one, ‘I accept’. The ego accepts that the Truth is formless. And having accepted that the Truth is formless, the ego then discovers its own formless root and essence that would be called as ‘rising up to the Truth’. “The Truth is formless and I will not touch, or stain, or spoil the Truth, and if I want to come close to the truth, then I will rise up to the Truth. I will rise up to the Truth by discovering that in the rejection and realisation of all falseness lies the Truth. I rise to the truth by rejection of my own falseness,” that is the way of the honest mind.

But then there is the common mind, and it has its own silly ways. It says, “I will not rise up to the Truth, I will bring the Truth down to my level. I am more important than the Truth, why must I travel all the way up there, the Truth must come down. So, if I am in a form, then the Truth must also be in a form. If I am bodily, then the Truth must also be bodily. If I am temporary, then I will say that the Truth is also temporary.”

Do we see what kind of obstinacy is this? “I am so attached to myself that I will not give up on myself. I would rather try to bring the Truth down to my own form-level.

And then what will I do? I will create images of truth.

Why? Because I like images.

Then what will I do? I will give a body to the truth.

Why? Because I am in a body and I believe in my body, so I will give a body to the Truth also.

And then what else will I do? Then I will ascribe scriptures to the Truth, scriptures containing words, and I’ll say these are words of Truth.

Now, why must I relate words to Truth? I must relate words to Truth, because I speak and deal only in words.

So, now Truth is everything that I am, and that is a great way of preserving myself. Because I live in a house, I give a house to the Truth also and call it a temple, or a church. Are you getting it?

So, I do everything that I am, and use the name of the Truth for my own continuation.”

Can there be a deeper sacrilege than this? And don’t we all do this day in and day out? Can enquiry happen if we are, first of all, committed to preserving and securing ourselves, and our beliefs? We say, “We will learn no enquire as long as it is not dangerous to myself concept. And if I come across something which threatens my self-concept then I will modify that thing to suit what I believe in.” So, our Gods speak the same language as we do. Our Gods carry the same prejudices that we do. And we like those teachers who speak of the same things that we like to listen.

One goes to a teacher, one goes anywhere to learn, and learning is self-dissolution. One does not learn to remain what he is. For what are we? We are a bundle of suffering, a mass of restlessness. Is this what we want to preserve and continue? Then why is there this insistence on maintaining ourselves?

Look at the kind of believes that have been floated in the market by spiritual shops, temporary Truth. And what is this thing called temporal? What is time? Without ever talking of what is time, somebody is teaching people to bring Truth in the province of time, without ever having a serious discussion of what time means. What is it that the mind calls as time? If Truth is temporary then time is bigger than Truth, or at least on the same level, in the same dimension as Truth. Otherwise how could it have touched time?

By saying that the time is in the same dimension as Truth, do you know what essentially we are trying to say? We are trying to say, “ I, me, this person , carrying a name is in the same dimension as Truth, because ‘I am’ time. I am a product of time, I came in time, and I will disappear in time. So, if Truth is temporary, then who is Truth? I am Truth.”

And that is all that we want–to call ourselves as Truth which is very welcome, which is very auspicious. But, you cannot call yourselves as Truth remaining what you are. You are Truth, when? In your disappearance. The world is Truth, when? When it is not there.

But it is so comforting, to just go on declaring that I am the self, Aham Brahmasmi, it’s me, I am pure consciousness. No, you are not pure consciousness. When you discover the falseness of what you believe yourselves to be is pure consciousness. But the words of Dattatreya fall in the hands of shopkeepers. And then there is just more suffering for everybody.

It is very easy to condition oneself. It is very easy to start looking around and just see what you want to see. If you want to see Krishna dancing on this road, you will see that. If you want to see some special significance in this river, you will see that. If you want to believe that these hills are special, divine, then you will feel that. But does that have anything to do with the Truth? That only has something to do with our self-continuation.

Listener: So, It seems the catch is: the Truth cannot be an object of experience. It is the experiencer only. And so, we can never find this Truth, and everything we do is external.

AP: No, if the Truth cannot be objective experience, then it cannot even be the experiencer. If the experience is false, then how can the experiencer be real? That is another catch.

L: Experiencer in the sense of consciousness?

AP: No, It is a non-experiencing consciousness that is a mirror of Truth: A non-experiencing consciousness.

But you know, it is a great trick to say that the experience is false, but the experiencer real. And who is the experiencer? Me.

So, who is real? Me.

Self-preservation continues.

All this is false teaching. All this is aimed just to assure the listener that he is alright, and he is real. Surely he is real, but not in the way he thinks himself to be. Not in the way of his experiences, for there is no experience without the one who is conditioned to take that experience. Take an example right now: I as an object is sitting in front of you, the words as objective facts are falling in your objective ears. Are they not? But is the experience the same for everybody? What is coming from here is objective, factual, but what you are experiencing is all very different. Are all of you having the same experience? So, the experience too depends on the experiencer. The experience and the experience are one. And hence, if the experience is false, let us also honestly call the experiencer too as false.

When the experience and the experiencer both are gone, then Truth alone shines. But in that there is fear. But you must confront fear.

Yesterday, when I was talking, one lady said, “Yes, I appreciate what is being said, but it is also scary. Is there no way I can get it? Is there no way I can reach the Truth? Is there no way I can be and yet get the divine?” But what is the need? Why must this ‘I’ continue? Is it giving you a lot of joy? Is this ‘I’ really of use to you? But you are afraid, because you are habituated to this ‘I’. You say, “This ‘I’ is a burden, yet it is a known burden. This ‘I’ is a burden, yet it is a known burden to which I am familiar. The new might be wonderful, but the new by definition is new, and hence, sounds unfamiliar. I would rather have a known problem, then have an unknown joy. Now, this is not the statement of a courageous mind, or even a mind devoted to Truth.

You know what is bhakti? Bhakti is devotion only to the Truth, only to the Truth am I devoted, and to nothing else. Now, if you are devoted only to the Truth why must you hesitate and be afraid? Unfortunately, most of us are devoted first to ourselves and then to the Truth. And if you are devoted first to yourself, and then to Truth, then you say, “I will find the way to Truth through myself, carrying myself. And even if it is proven that the entrance to the Truth is so subtle, so narrow that I cannot enter with this body, yet I will not give up my attachment and my identification with the body. If that means that I will never enter the gates of Truth, so be it, but I will not leave my deep-seated attachment to this body. That I will not leave.” That is the reason why that truth in spite of being readily available is yet so unavailable to most of us. That is the reason why people like Dattatreya are either ignored, or misinterpreted.

You are not the subject, you are not the experiencer. * Subject and object are the two ends of the same duality.* You are not the subject. Subject and object exist together. There is a difference between being a witness and being an experiencer. The witness is not me. The experiencer is me. With the witness this ‘me’ has no relationship at all.

Listener: That means we had a misunderstanding with what is meant by ‘to witness’.

Acharya Prashant: If you mean the ‘witness’, the witness has nothing to do with ‘you’. You cannot say, “I am the witness.” The witness ‘is’. You are not the witness. Just as you say, “I am the experiencer,” you cannot say, “I am the witness.” The witness is, and there is no ‘I-ness’ in the witness. But you would want to claim that ‘I am the witness’, because that sustains the ‘I’. ‘I’ can never be the witness. I am the one who eats, drinks, walks, forgets, comes and goes, laughs, cries, experiences pain and pleasure. I am that one, then how can I be the witness. I am the one who has a son and a daughter, I am the one who has three failed love affairs and I am the one who is preparing for the next affair. I am the one who travels; I am the one who forgets to travel. How can I be the witness? I am the one who got cold last night. I am the one who has to rush to catch a train, and still misses it. I am the one who sometimes does catch a train. How can I be the witness?

But it is not very pleasant to hear. One likes it when the teacher says, “You are the witness. You are the holy Self.” And then we all puff up. Right? The whole mind becomes so inflated that, “Ah! The glory of the great Self that am I.” No, sorry, that is not what the great teachers have ever said. That is what the shopkeepers have said. The great teachers will never say that, “You are the great Self.” It depends upon you whether you are going to a teacher or to a shopping mall. This is a great shopping mall here (pointing towards the entire Rishikesh)

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