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Why everything you know is false || Acharya Prashant, on Vedanta (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
23 min
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Acharya Prashant (AP): How do you see something? You see something only when it blocks your vision. Do you see this? How do you ever see something? Only when it blocks your vision. You see something only when you take it as real. And the moment you see it, it is confirmed that it is real, right?

Would the sages ever behold māyā ? Māyā firstly cannot block their vision. Māyā does not reflect anything back to them, and māyā to them is not real at all. So they see through māyā. If you can see through something, can you see that thing? Come on! If you can perfectly see through something, does that thing even exist for you? But as far as we are concerned, māyā to us is real. We don't see through māyā , it obstructs our vision. And we do not see it as an obstruction, we call it the vision. Do you get this?

It's like this: I want to have you look at the sky, right? I say, “Please look at the sky.” And you shut this doors upon you and then you start calling the blackness of these doors as the sky. What I am saying is the sky is real, then the doors have to be taken as something that obstructs the real. Instead we start calling the doors themselves as real. The doors aren't real, they are the obstruction.

Similarly, whatever we see from morning till evening is an obstruction really, not the reality. Not getting it? What you are seeing is preventing you from seeing. Because what you are seeing is not the sight, but the screen. No? Okay, that's the sky. Right? Now put your hand in front of your eyes.

Questioner(Q): How does this example relate with Reality?

* AP: It is literal. It is as literal as the sky is to your eyes.

Q: Sir, when you say, “It's not a metaphor, it's literal,” in this context, what is māyā ? When I am seeing you, does the person exist?

AP: No, all you are looking at is my skin. And that's not who I am.

Q: So, does the person does not exist or my opinions, my reverence or whatever that I have...

AP: The person as you see him does not exist at all.

Q: Okay, but the shape and the matter is there, right?

AP: You don't know about it. Why are you talking about it? All you know is the skin and that too some particular parts of the skin. They will remain even when the person is gone.

Q: But this fact is corroborated by everyone sitting here.

AP: How does that matter? How does that matter? Just as you do not know me, how are you so sure that you know anybody else here. Isn't it a vague evidence to cite? It's like this—“I cannot see anything, but so many other people around me, they say I can see a lot.”

If you cannot see anything, how do you even see that there are others here? How do you know anything? How are you so sure of anything?

Q: But that is the only thing I have known so far. I can question that. I do question that. But I don't find any other alternative.

AP: Just the absence of alternative is no justification to continue things as they are.

Q: Your statement seems to imply that absence of alternatives is not a justification to continue things. Seems to imply that I have a choice.

AP: Of course, you have.

Q: I don't see that choice.

AP: You don't see that choice because you are very comfortable with the status quo. Why will you ever see a choice when you are happy as you are?

Q: Okay. Probably subconsciously, I might be happy or might be comfortable, but...

AP: That discomfort has to grow or a vague, unspeakable love has to arise. Either you have to grow dissatisfied with how things are for you. Or a very far-flung remote, hazy love has to seize you.

Q: Love, I can't force.

AP: Then at least have that dissatisfaction. I mean, is it something that I need to impress upon you? Don't you see how you get cheated by life frequently? Had things really been as you take them to be, why would you so often be cheated or deceived? Things have either already turned bad for you, or are waiting to turn sour, right? There is stuff that already deceived you and there is stuff that is waiting to fall flat. Then how do you claim that you know anything?

Anything and everything that you have trusted has either already betrayed your trust or is vulnerable to betrayal, right? And that is the reason we remain so suspicious and insecure. Because we know that vulnerability. Your very insecurity is the proof that you do not see anything. Otherwise why would you be insecure?

You buy a product. Does it really greatly surprise you if it doesn't function? It's almost as if something in you knew that the thing was waiting to fail. You receive a break-up message, does it really, really shock the wits out of you? No. Something in you somewhere knew that this was about to happen. Then how do you propose that you see anything? Why this false and self-defeating confidence? Humility will afford you a second look at everything in life. But we don't want to have that humility. We want to be cocksure of a lot of things. We want to assume certainty where it is not. And then we pretend to get shocked. “What happened? Oh no! He just got that pink slip and he's stupefied, and he actually is.” Come on! Why pretend? Didn't you see it coming? No?

In a relationship, don't you know what all you have towards that other person— you call your partner? Then why are you surprised when he reciprocates the same things? Who over here has only goodness and piousness and piety towards his or her partner? Come on. You haven't ever been in a relationship if you haven't ever thought ill of your partner. Then why does it shock you when the same thing comes from the other side? It's just that the other one has made the first move.

All our life, we are just somehow trying to come to terms with change. We are grappling with the way, things change colour. Come on, think please. Why do we have to worry so much about change? It is because things just do not remain as they once were. They mutate into something very unpredictable, something unknown. No promise is ever kept. Even a simple t-shirt doesn't remain the same once you pack it out of that store. A motorcar, the way it appears in the showroom, is it same when you park it in your own garage? And you paid for the thing as it appeared in the showroom. Had it appeared to you as it appears to you in your own garage, would you have dished out the same sum? Come on.

And still we say we know! All you know is the surface. No? And you could say, “But that's something we obviously know that things change.” If you obviously know that things change, then why do you resist change? And why do you struggle with change? And why do you do so much to cope up with change? It's an entire discipline, no? Coping with change. Had change really been so acceptable to us, had we really known about change in advance, then why would be so frightened of change? What is all this future planning? What is all this anxiety and worry? Nothing but a result of our incapacity to see—that's māyā.

Māyā is defined as that which is not. Yā mā sā māyā —that which is not is māyā. Classically they say, māyā exhibits itself in two forms. It has two powers: Prakshēpana and Vikshep. Praksēpana implies seeing things where they are not. You see love where it is not. You see cause for concern where there is none. And Vikshep —not seeing things as they really are. Your sight is obstructed by a screen—that's Vikshep. The Truth is not being seen because something nearer to the eyes is being termed as the Truth. And if you have an easy Truth, comfortably available, why will you go for the real thing?

So, the sages behold the Truth everywhere; the invisible Truth everywhere, because they do not behold anything else. We behold everything else, therefore we do not behold the Truth. What does it mean to behold? Pay attention! That does not mean that the sages will not see a banana when they see a banana. It's just that the banana is not important enough to be seen, or you could say more accurately that the banana is important enough only for the instrument that sees the banana. The sage is not the instrument and therefore the sage does not see the banana. The banana is useful to the body and therefore only the body sees the banana. The banana is not useful to the sage and the sage is oblivious to the banana. That is what is meant by saying, “The sages behold only the Truth.”

Why would the sage be interested in a banana? These eyeballs are interested in the banana because the energy from the banana would keep these things active—these balls of flesh. So they may look at the banana. And the mind for its own movement requires energy. The mind too might try to figure out how to obtain the banana. What will the sage do with the banana?

In our case that distinction does not exist. We coolly, confidently say, “I want the banana.” If you want the banana, then you are the body. How else does one become the body? The body is entitled to crave for the banana. But when you start craving for the banana, then you are the body—the body and the mind both. Remember body and mind are one entity. The body may crave for the banana, the mind may find means to get the banana. But all that is none of your business.

The sage does not behold the banana, therefore the sage beholds only the Truth. So when he looks at the banana what truth exactly does he behold? Nothing, no truth. When I say, “Look at the sky,” is there anything to be seen there? And I am not even talking of the clouds—the clouds too are a screen. When I say, “Look at the sky,” am I referring to a tangible object? What's there to be seen in the sky? The sky is no thing to be seen. But even as you look at the sky, there is so much else to look at. The sage is not interested, the sage is not interested. Now you have come to a very simple and easy word. He is not interested in the clouds. Is he interested in the sky? The sky is not a thing to be interested in, so he has no interest. Because he has no interest, therefore he has joy. Are you getting it?

That Joy is another name for Truth. A pure happiness sans interests, sans reasons, sans objects. A pure, simple, innocent happiness requiring nothing. You get this? This has to be very carefully understood, else you will hallucinate that the sages are seeing deities everywhere, as they show you in your TV serials. And then they say, “Don't the Vedas say that the sages see God everywhere.” So you see the sage is looking this way and there appears some figure here and then.

The highest and the most sublime thing is brought down to the most gross and grotesque level by our ugly imagination. So that's the reason man, I said, don't be so interested in the sky. You already have ample interests. Why do you want to add one to the list? It's about reducing the length of that list, not doing a plus one to it. So your Facebook or some other status will read—interested in pizza, skirts, toothpaste, men, paramātmā. Like sometimes those Hollywood chaps come up and say, “You know, these days I am into spirituality.” How exactly” “I visited that meditation resort in India and did some cool yoga for two months.” That’s actually a new brand of yoga. We already have had hot yoga—you know of that fraudster, right? Now we have cool yoga as well. Plus one, plus one, plus one, plus one—that's how the list has become endless now. So don't do a plus one.

(Showing minus sign) What? That's called Neti, Neti —Negate, negate, negate; refute, refute, refute—that's the method of the Upanishads. Say no, say no, no, no, no, no. Upanishads are like a war-cry. They are like rebellion anthem. They are like an inner uprising. Do you get this? “No! Enough!”—that's what the Upanishads cry out.

Q: Acharya Ji, go back to the banana example. So when I see the yellow thing, one name is banana; but, in Hindi the name is kela . So that's a sign that that's not really a banana because different languages have different names. And at the same time my body wants the sweet energy. So, to look at that yellow thing as a way of energy—is one way of looking at it. And the other way is to fantasize about, “Oh! This banana is from Mexico. If I have it, I will feel a certain way—I am a rich person, I can afford an imported banana.” So, the two different ways of looking at that yellow object. And now you are saying that when it's just food for the body, or a car is just a way to get from A to B, or a job is just a way to earn enough money to survive? Is that more the right way of looking at things as opposed to–this job gives me prestige, this car gives me a certain status, this food gives me a certain...

AP: It's subtler than the subtlest. What you are talking of is a progressive sublimation of concepts. But nevertheless, you remain within a conceptual framework. So, this kind of ascension is good but not sufficient.

Yes, from a place where you would say, “Having a Mexican banana enriches my identity,” to a place where you say, “Banana is just a banana,” obviously you have made progress. But there is a vast sky beyond. Because after all you see, a concept is a concept. Though we agree that there are some concepts more suited to us than others. There are subtler concepts, there are useful concepts. Nevertheless concepts are concepts. So, the state of the sage really cannot be described. If you are asking what happens in him when he looks at a banana, that's beyond description. At the centre-most point actually nothing happens—no vibration occurs, nothing moves, nothing responds. You could even say, he is absent to the banana.

Q: When you say, “He is absent to the banana,” does that mean, there is no desire at all for the banana?

AP: Desire is to the desirous one. Sage is not the desiring entity. There is a need that you have to keep the body afloat. And there is a need you have to keep the self afloat. The sage is now free of the need of the second kind. Most of our needs are not to keep the body afloat, we have needs to keep the self afloat—there is a great difference there.

And also, please, it's not of much use discussing the state of the sage. Because as far as we are concerned, we need to actually have a relationship with things in the world. The sage has crossed over. He needs no relationships. We need relationships. So a pertinent question for us is, “How to have right relationships? How to choose the right thing to eat? Should it be a banana, an apple, bread or burger?” That's the question we should answer. Getting it? And then gradually, gradually, if you are resolute enough, you come to a point where the banana is to the body, not to you. Right now, it's just too far-fetched to be going into that. Getting it?

We should be asking this: “How to relate to food? How to relate to others? How to relate to work? How to relate to clothes? How to relate to family, to house, to money, to everything? What is discretion? What to say no to? What to say yes to?” And out of these two, what to say no to comes first, because you cannot be in a position to say yes unless you have firstly said no. The inner vacancy is limited. If it is already occupied, you will not be in a position to afford a yes. To afford a yes, first of all, you have to say no to something that is squatting within.

You have to say no to it, you may actually have to tear it away from your system. Because a polite no may not suffice. The things has grown roots within, you will have to forcefully uproot it and only then there is vacancy or space for something to say yes to. Getting it? That is more relevant to us—What to relate to? What to keep in life? What not to keep in life? What to want? What not to want? How much to want?

Q: So, Acharya Ji, when you say those questions, “How to relate? Why did I wear this shirt? What did I eat for breakfast?’ I guess, when I asked those question, it sounds like there's still some sort of concept, that did I do this to further the self or did I do this to just because it is functional? And I guess, I am confused with the intent behind the question. Is the intent to find out whether it's purely functional or whether it's giving me some self-importance that may not..

AP: Let there be no intent. Let there be no question. Let there just be a subtle attention. Because I am using words, so what I am communicating is getting not diluted but over-said, right? When I say, “Look into your relationships, see what to say yes to, what to say no to and all those things”—no, no, it doesn't actually exactly proceed this way. You just attend to it. You don't attend to it with an objective. You don't attend to it with a specific question. Great that you raise this. Because if you will have a specific question, all you can get is a specific answer. And specific answers won't suffice. You need something a bit from the beyond. You need to know that which has so far been unknown to you, right? So your inquiry has to be open-ended.

You don't look at his face with the question, is he black or white? Now if that is the question, the answer will be binary, right? Black or white. But if you just look at him, just attend, you may come to know a lot. We are talking of attention here. Don't make it a very regulated and pre-determined kind of enquiry. There is no objective there. In fact enquiry with objective or intent is no enquiry at all. You will only come to know something that you have already asked for.

Similarly, observation—you don't observe with a purpose. It has to be ‘purposeless observation’. You just open yourself to know. What to know is not your business. You are just opening yourself up and that requires courage, because now you can come to know anything. There is a difference between answering the doorbell after peeping through the peephole and you are already sure what you are opening yourself to; and wandering in a jungle, now you are completely open to everything.

Q: So I take away the intent of the question—is he black or white and I look, but I notice that when I do that, there's still conclusions and mind things coming up this way, that way.

AP: That has to be avoided as much as possible and that is coming to you because of your purposeful life and purposeful education. The kind of life and occupation you have had, has taught you to be business-like with everything. At the end of the day you want to ask, “So, what did I get out of this? How much did I make? What the benefit is?” And you bring over that attitude into this as well. “So I observed, what did I come to know?” You don't have to determine what you came to know. In fact, it is quite likely that this passive attention that you have—Krishnamurti used to call it ‘choiceless awareness’—this passive attention may not yield any visible fruits at all, and that's the beauty of it.

You are just attentive and you do not even come to know what attention has yielded to you. And then suddenly one day, you find that you know something, something very precious. And you wonder with a smile. “How exactly did I come to know this? From where did this knowledge come to me? I have never read such a thing. I have never heard such a thing. I have never thought of such a thing and yet I know this.” And that's the joy in living—to know without knowing, to know without training, to know without education or purpose, to just know. To know without conditioning that must be added. A lot of that which we know, we may just subconsciously have been conditioned for it and that's not what I am calling as meditative knowledge, no.

Meditative understanding is a different thing altogether. And it offers you such immense freedom, you don't have to be prepared. You just have faith that you will be up to life, and up to the occasion, and up to challenges when they come. So, you ask me a question. I just do not know where I would come from. I leave myself free and loose to come from anywhere and I know, I rest in peace and whatsoever would come forth would just be the right thing. And there is such security and comfort and effortlessness in it, you don't get tired; the body does, you do not get tired. And that's how, you know, if you can respond to everything in life by not having it upon you to respond, you are not responsible for anything now. Just letting it happen as if a greater power beyond you is in charge.

Q: I guess, I feel scared at times that I might be wasting time or..

AP: Losing control..

Q: I guess am I really being meditative or am I just being taken in by māyā ? I guess that's what I am trying to avoid.

AP: Yes, that's a good thing to ask because in the name of attentiveness, you may even become absent-minded. And that's a danger you have to accept. May be after every 10 minutes, 15 minutes you will check yourself and ask, “What was I doing? Was I attending or was I dreaming, hallucinating?” Slowly it becomes a way of life. Things start opening themselves to you—very subtle things, very little, very delicate things just. And when things open up, all that they have to say is, “Use us to go past us. There's nothing in us of such great value that you must stay at us.” In fact no thing in the universe ever wants to deceive you. It's our own infatuation and ignorance that deems things as extraordinarily lucrative; things by themselves are not. And no thing ever carries a conscious intention to deceive you, and by thing I mean every object in the world—money, things, people, matter, relationships. When you pay attention to them, they just open their doors, fold their hands and say, “Great, now that you have come to us, please carry on. Walk past us, leave us behind.”

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