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Why do you think you have all the answers, Acharya Prashant? || IIM Ahmedabad session (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
6 min
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Questioner (Q): I have always found the profession of an acharya or a wisdom teacher to be quite amusing, because even Shakespeare said that a fool does think himself to be wise, but the wise does think himself to be a fool. Being an acharya or a wisdom teacher requires you to be the smartest person in the room, or else the people who come to listen to you or follow your advice would not appreciate what you are saying. But if you are wise enough, you would appreciate that you might not be the smartest person in the room, or you might not have answers to all the questions that are posed to you. So, how do you look at this profession in that manner, considering that you are a wisdom teacher?

Acharya Prashant (AP): You answer to the best of your capacity. It is not about proving to the other that you are the smartest person in the room. This language itself is quite juvenile. Spirituality is for adults. Who is smart, who is not smart, who is carrying away all the girls, who gets all the attention—all that is for adolescents. Such language does not apply to the spiritual domain.

Someone comes to you, someone wants to invest his time with you; that is a responsibility upon you. How do you respond? You respond to the best of your ability. Obviously, you never say or claim, if you have any sincerity at all, that your answer is an absolute. Even if you do claim, as some people do, that their answers are Godsent or absolutes, the person in the audience too has his own intellect; he too knows a few things. He will assess, he will know.

Ultimately, the tyre has to meet the road. It is easy to sit on a high chair, it is easy to be placed on a podium and say all the great things. But to be of genuine use to somebody, what you are saying must pass the test of life, and that is the right thing. Figure out whether your advice is really useful to someone or not, and never attach any absoluteness to it.

Q: What is the importance of experience in becoming a wisdom teacher?

AP: Obviously experience helps, obviously reading helps, knowledge helps. All these things help. But unlike other walks of human life, here you cannot have very certain determinants; you cannot say that someone who has twenty years of experience will surely deliver the goods, or that someone who is only twenty-two will not realize what he is saying. Some of the greatest proponents of Vedanta, for example, Ashtavakra, Acharya Shankara, they were all quite young people. The famous debate that Ashtavakra had with King Janaka was when Ashtavakra was just fourteen years of age. Acharya Shankara died when he was hardly thirty, and before he died he had composed literature that is considered the gold standard even today.

Obviously, experience does matter, but we cannot be too insistent on imposing that constraint; it will become too tight a constraint. Ultimately, the only determinant is: does the advice make sense? Is the realization really adding value to the lives of others? We say the Truth is that which is useful; ultimately it has to perform. Otherwise, it is all just verbiage and sophistry.

Q: Take the case of these people in this room; they are intelligent, they have mental bandwidth to figure out what they need, but it is just because these people are well-resourced; they have the luxury to be acquainted with this kind of teaching. Contrast this to the case of some normal person who is just striving to survive in this world. To us what you are saying might be applicable, but how will all this make sense to someone whose sole occupation is to just survive in this world? Aren’t all these things applicable only to the ones with the sufficient resources for it?

AP: Even if you are leading your so-called normal, daily life in the usual middle-class way, still you have to make daily decisions; still every little thing calls for consideration, calls for the setting of criteria, and ultimately calls for a decision to be taken. Spirituality or the field of wisdom is about making those daily decisions in the best way possible; it is not something separated from life. And each of us is alive, so we all do have a life. Therefore, we all need spirituality.

We all are walking; consider life a journey. Spirituality is not about changing the path that you are walking; it is about throwing some light on the same path that you are walking. Spirituality is not another path; you don’t have to quit your daily life, you don’t have to change tracks. But won’t you want to move on an illuminated track? Spirituality is illumination, it is light. You are living—why not make your decisions in an illuminated way? Otherwise, there would be obstacles and one would be stumbling at every point as the normal man does.

When I said that most of us here are quite well-placed to enquire about the world and to go into inner enquiry, I said that not so much on the basis of our resourcefulness but on the basis of our logical acumen. Going beyond reason first of all requires you to have the capacity to exercise reason soundly. That is one thing that you people are quite good at—exercising logic. If you can exercise logic well, then you will find it relatively easier to come to the boundary of logic.

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