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Why an IITian loses focus, and the purpose of life || IIT Kharagpur (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
15 min
74 reads

Questioner (Q): During our preparation for IIT JEE, we had to pass through a phase where we were not socializing much in order to focus on our studies. But as soon as we enter IIT, we are faced with a scenario where we are required to be a social person, we need to make friends, and we need to have someone to listen to our problems. But due to being a loner for a long time, it puts a lot of stress on me to adopt that habit of being a social person again, and that is affecting my mental health. So, how to overcome this habit of not expressing oneself?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Didn’t you have problems when you were preparing for JEE? What happened then? Who did you go to speak to?

Q: Generally, we used to go to our teachers because it was a competitive environment, and we used to feel that to talk to a teacher is the best thing. But right now, we mostly talk first to our friends, and then to a teacher if it is a major issue.

AP: Okay, let me ask you one thing: How driven and focused did you feel at the time of JEE preparation? Now that you have cleared the JEE, you are in a good position to say how driven you were.

Q: Like I mentioned, I was completely into the studies.

AP: And now, after entering IIT?

Q: I am now a bit more relaxed.

AP: Which semester are you in?

Q: Right now, I am in my fourth semester.

AP: If it is not very personal, may I ask your CGPA?

Q: Right now, it is about 8.5.

AP: 8.5 means DR of 5, 10 or 15?

Q: Sir, I am not sure about that.

AP: You would have been very sure of your percentile and rank when you were preparing for JEE, right? What do they call it in IIT Kharagpur? They don’t call it DR, the Departmental Rank?

Q: We call it DR.

AP: DR, so the tradition continues. See, the thing is you had a purpose then, so you didn’t need to socialize, and that purpose was bigger than the company of any friends or other things. Now you are in IIT, and there are so many other things to do, we all know of them. So, you are saying, “Oh my God, I just kept studying and didn’t develop my so-called soft skills! I am not very good at communication. I must talk a lot, I must be attractive to others, I must get the best company possible”—and by ‘best’ what we mean is the most glamourous.

What do you mean by social skills? You are a human being. If somebody is worth it, there would be a relationship. What do you mean by social skills? It is just an absence of a purpose now. Give yourself a purpose. You do not need to be great at socializing. Let the purpose decide the kind of company you are to get, and if you have a great purpose, you will get just the right company.

What happens is that once you enter IIT, placement is almost guaranteed, so that bogie is off your mind; you don’t have to clear the JEE once again. And because everybody gets into a relaxed mode once you enter the campus, therefore even with a very modest kind of effort you can have a decent CGPA and a decent rank, right? That has been happening since ages, that has been happening across all IITs, so you will have to agree with what I am saying.

Q: Yes…

AP: What you lack now is the same fire that you had at the time of JEE preparation. At that time you were like, “I have to get it, and if I don’t get it, I am losing out on something very, very important!” In contrast, right now your statement is, “I already have what is important; therefore let me get into other things, like pleasure, fun, excitement and the rest of it.” No, you have not attained anything yet. Let that be very clear to you.

Clearing the JEE is nothing; clearing the JEE at best guarantees you bread and butter, and an upper middle-class kind of life. That doesn’t mean much. There is a long distance to cover and, especially as a woman in Indian conditions, you have to keep sprinting; you cannot reduce your pace, you cannot let your guard down. You cannot start seeking company, socialization and relationships, because all of these ultimately lead to that one thing we can call as the final bondage. Why do you want to go towards that?

Be a scholar rather than a sensation on the campus. But that is what we want to be called, isn’t it? ‘Mr. Campus’ or ‘Ms. Campus’, rather than the best scholar out there. And if you have to do something apart from the studies, there are so many co-curriculars to choose from. I am sure Kharagpur campus offers at least ten different kinds of sports, great infrastructure, debating, dramatics, and many other activities. That is one good thing about being in an IIT campus: you get exposure to so many things that are usually not available to common students. Excel in them. Socialization etc. carry next to zero value.

And, as I said, if what you are doing carries value and importance, the right kind of socialization will happen on its own. You will get the right kind of company who are totally devoted to your work and to your purpose. Some person or a group of persons cannot be the purpose of your life; I say that to everybody, and when I am addressing a girl, I say that with heightened emphasis. Forget all these, please. I have seen an entire generation of IITians graduate in front of my eyes. Do not get into that same old kind of trap. It firstly leads to mediocrity, and then it leads to bondages. Learn to excel, keep the fire burning.

If you are in IIT, I am pretty sure your rank would have been in the top one percent, obviously it has to be. So, that benchmark has to be maintained. Tell me, since the last two years, what is it that you belong to the top one percentile of? JEE was the last thing you excelled at, right? Tell me, what is it that you have added to your kitty post the JEE? Are you one percent, top one percent in swimming, in debating, in dramatics, or in tennis? In what?

Q: In nothing…

AP: Yes, and that which you are seeking now will push you deeper into mediocrity. Do you want to be among those students in class who used to obtain fifty, sixty, seventy or seventy-five percent and were satisfied with that? Do you want to be counted among them? Please.

Q: No, sir.

AP: So, maintain the JEE-like spirit throughout your life. You have to excel. Relationships and such things, let the mediocre ones count them as their priority. Read, read a lot. You would have poured into the books and burnt the midnight oil for JEE. And since entering the campus, how much have you really read? And even if you have read, I am sure it mostly belongs to the technical genre, right?

Q: Yes, sir.

AP: The entire world’s literature is waiting for you. When will you read that? If you do not read that, don’t you see you will be missing out on so much? What can the company of a second year, third year student give you? Don’t you want to learn from great philosophers and great writers? Don’t you want to be with them?

But you see, it is the body. We want a living being, the warmth of another living body. That is what this body craves for. So, even if you must have that, let that be secondary to your purpose, goal and work. Choose the company of those who assist in your work. Choose the company of those who are aligned with your work. Persons must be way down in your priority. Remember who you are. You are someone who must excel; you are someone who must know, learn, realize, and ultimately be liberated. And this fact of central identity of yours must govern all your life decisions.

Q: In one of your videos, you said that your achievement during your two years at IIM was that you did not let the system get inside your head. How did you succeed in that? Because, as you mentioned right now, we have to keep the fire burning, we have to keep learning, we have to move forward in our twenties and for the rest of our life. But the core basis that we have today is the capitalistic basis which says that everything has to have a capitalistic purpose and not just curiosity.

AP: Very well said. Most people excel only when that excellence leads to capital gains, only when that excellence leads to monetary benefits, you are right. And that is why so many people stop studying the moment they enter IIT or IIM or at least don’t perform at their best. That is because you know it is not studies or books or knowledge that fundamentally attracted them—what attracted them was the prospect of plum placements. The moment that placement is assured or obtained, the fire dies down. No, that should not be there.

Remain the same person throughout your life—the same person that had not yet cleared the JEE but was rearing to clear the JEE; the same person who was sprinting and putting in ten, twelve or sixteen hours a day. That you cannot do if you are studying for the sake of money, because money will come. And once money comes, then you will be easily satisfied. Therefore, you must have a very, very high purpose in life, the kind of purpose that can never actually be fully attained. If it can never be fully attained, you will be working towards it all your life without ever having a final satisfaction that you have arrived. That dissatisfaction is extremely important.

What is that final purpose I am referring to? It is called realization or liberation; it is called annihilation of the ego. Now, annihilation of the ego just cannot happen directly; it has to happen through your lifework. You have to choose your work in a way that it keeps diminishing your ego.

And because the ego can never be fully, absolutely diminished, reduced to zero, therefore you will have to keep the fire burning throughout your life. That is the method. Choose such a mammoth goal that you always have to be on your toes, that you never fall complacent, that you never give yourself the liberty to say, “Now I am done and I can retire.” This must be sounding a bit different from the usual things you hear, I understand that, but we are trying to keep it as lucid as possible.

Q: You said that we have to take up a goal that we may never achieve. If we are not there to see our life’s work, how will we keep the fire burning? Because ultimately, we are a species that looks for feedback and recognition.

AP: That is what your body does, and that is why I said it is important to not listen too much to your body. The body wants attainable goals, but the consciousness is in need of a goal that is extremely worthy, extremely loveable, even though unattainable. Consciousness has a deep need; therefore—this is where love comes in—you must fall in love with what you do. More accurately, you must do something worth falling in love with.

The final goal is within. The final goal is annihilation of the darkness and bondage within. But because it is within, it cannot happen directly, we said. So, you have to choose a series of projects so challenging that they keep resulting in your betterment. Externally, obviously, you cannot just choose a project that will never be finished. External projects, they will keep coming and going, and may you be successful at all the external challenges you pick up. But once a challenge is overcome, pick the next one. And what will be the next one? It will be decided by the previous one that you have just overcome.

So, may you have a great series of successes in the external world, and all those successes lead to your final victory within. What is that final victory within? You must be preparing to ask the question, “Sir, but you said that the internal goal can never be fully achieved.” The internal victory is about continuously working in the right direction, in the inward direction. If you manage to do that your entire life, you are a winner.

Q: And the direction is towards the liberation of consciousness?

AP: Yes, towards liberation of the consciousness, being hell-bent: “I want to see what all remains as a bondage in my life. I want to identify my hidden masters one after the other and keep negating them continuously, and there are just so many of them. There are so many of them because internally there sits someone who is very prepared to be a slave. Because here somebody is prepared to be a slave, so masters come in great abundance. I will keep negating all those masters; I will keep negating the slavery within. I will keep reducing my tendency to be dependent, to be lazy, to be hungry, to be afraid, to be greedy. I will keep identifying where my weaknesses lie; I will keep challenging, overcoming them.” That is the great purpose one must have in life.

Q: How do we choose our own path for liberation without getting influenced by our surroundings and relationships? How to identify who I am without getting influenced by others and external factors? How do I identify the right work for myself?

AP: No, when you say you want to identify who you are, if you are honest, you will realize you are the one who is already influenced by everybody—influenced by everybody and driven by the body. So, enslaved doubly: driven by the body and influenced by all. That is who we are. So, identifying who we are is not very difficult. We are social creatures, we are physical creatures, and being either of them is no good at all.

Now, you said, “How do I identify the right work?” You have to start from where you are. Your goal is liberation, but you are where you are. And whatever the destination might be, the first step has to be taken from your current location. Knowing your current location honestly, accurately is very important. Do not keep yourself in delusion. And there will be a tendency to self-delude because it hurts to know where you really are. We might think that we are in an amusement park enjoying ourselves, and when you want to be a bit honest for a change, you realize you are in a prison cell.

So, knowing where you really are is the first thing, and a very difficult thing. Not because it is difficult to know where you are, but because it is difficult to acknowledge where you are. It hurts.

So, acknowledge where you are. You will see how badly enslaved you might be, and then immediately you will know what to do. That is your work. If I know I am sitting on this sofa and my leg has been chained to the leg of the sofa, don’t I know what to do? So, my situation decides my immediate work, and the situation is invariably of bondage. We all are in bondage.

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