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Wise dumbness, Sharp stupidity, Creative laziness || Acharya Prashant, on Ashtavakra Gita (2018)

Author Acharya Prashant

Acharya Prashant

15 min
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वाग्मिप्राज्ञामहोद्योगं जनं मूकजडालसं।

करोति तत्त्वबोधोऽयम-तस्त्यक्तो बुभुक्षभिः॥ 15.३ ॥

vāgmiprājñānamahodyogaṁ janaṁ mūkajaḍālasam karoti

tattvabodho'yamatastyakto bubhukṣabhiḥ || 15.3 ||

This awareness of the Truth makes an eloquent, clever and energetic man dumb, stupid and lazy, so it is avoided by those whose aim is enjoyment.

~ Ashatavakra Gita, Chapter 15, Verse 3

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Questioner (Q): Sir, Ashtavakra is pointing at what kind of dullness, stupidity, and laziness? Will the knower of Truth become dull, stupid, lazy? Surely, it has to be something else. Is it not so that rather the people seeking enjoyment are dull and stupid?

Acharya Prashant (AP): When Ashtavakra says ‘dumb’, that has to be read as an absence of the tendency to be verbose. Ashtavakra says that Truth turns the eloquent man dumb; dumb not in the sense of mental inadequacy, dumb in the sense of disappearance of the tendency to be profligate with words. We want to speak a lot, right? Why do we want to speak a lot? Because when we speak a lot, it convinces us that we know; because when we speak a lot, it convinces us that we exist.

The knower of Truth abides in his deep self-assurance; he has no need to insecurely boast. So, the man of words becomes a new man of silence. Those who had an itch in the lips find now they have a twist in the tongue. The very need to keep expressing through words diminishes. The very need to assure oneself that one is knowledgeable and existent, diminishes. The very need to relate to others through the verbal route diminishes.

Similarly, the clever man—Ashtavakra says—becomes stupid. Stupidity here should be read just as the healing of the tendency to act cleverly. The stupidity here is not the opposite of cleverness; stupidity here is the absence of cleverness. This is the thing with words; words operate in the dualistic domain. It becomes difficult to convey the non-dual Truth through them.

Ashtavakra could have just said ‘a-clever’ or ‘not clever’. Probably, that would not have driven home the point, so he instead chooses a more provocative word—he says ‘stupid’. Why does he say ‘stupid’? Why doesn’t he simply say that the clever man will not remain clever anymore? Why does he say that the clever man will turn stupid by the touch of the Truth? Why does he say so? He says so, so that the questioner asks me this question.

If he doesn’t provoke you, why will you ask this question? And if you won’t ask this question, how will Ashtavakra become clear to you? If Ashtavakra just says that the eloquent man will lose his eloquence, you will say, “Fine. He was eloquent, he is not eloquent anymore.” It doesn’t hurt you so much. But when Ashtavakra tells you that Truth turns the eloquent man dumb, then you are provoked, hurt. You feel offended because you too call yourself a seeker of the Truth, and you don’t want to call yourself dumb. Ashtavakra is saying that the Truth will turn the eloquent man dumb— “Ah,” rather, “Ouch.” So, a question arrives giving me an opportunity to be eloquent. (Laughing)

Ashtavakra is not against eloquence. Ashtavakra is against the compulsive tendency to seek security in words. Ashtavakra himself is so very eloquent, and here is your Acharya Ji eloquently coming forth on Ashtavakra.

Truth does not cause or diminish a particular kind of behavior, Truth just dissolves your insecure tendencies. Once you are not insecure, you may go right or you may go left—it doesn’t matter much. And if you remain insecure, then whether you go right, whether you go left, it won’t make a difference.

Similarly, he says, "Truth turns the energetic man lazy." Truth turns the energetic man lazy, and again that offends. Not only lazy; the questioner has done well pointing out that you become the lord of the lazy people, shiromani (crowning jewel). Amongst the lazy people, you become numero uno. Now, many people are put off. They say, “If this is what spirituality does to us, why should we turn spiritual at all?” That’s exactly what Ashtavakra wants to do: to put you off. You are an unnecessarily burning flame with a lot of smoke and very little light or purpose. He wants to put you off.

Where is all your energy coming from? You’re burning, and that’s where your energy is coming from. Have you seen—when you are afraid—how energetic you become? That’s where your energy comes from. Ashtavakra is saying, "The man of Truth loses all such energy, because he is not afraid anymore." Have you seen when you are jealous, how energetic you become? Have you seen when you are missing a train or a flight, how energetic you become? Have you seen when you are angry, how energetic you become?

Ashtavakra is saying, "The man of Truth loses all these energies—these are the energies of devil. He instead becomes lazy." What does Ashtavakra mean by laziness? He means —the man of Truth loses the motivation to secure himself or gain for himself. For himself, now he is totally lazy, because the Self is self-secure. There is no need to work for it.

Does that mean that the man of Truth does not work at all? No. The man of Truth does not work for the self, he rather works by the Self and in the Self. It’s a different dimension of energy; it’s a different quality of energy. It is pure energy—uncontaminated. It is not energy directed at someone, it is not energy directed at a purpose; it is just energy expressing itself for its own sake.

The man of Truth is not energetic because his energy, his race, his dive, his plunge will fetch him something. He’s energetic because it is great to express energy. His energy is the energy of a little bird playing around—no purpose.

You see, even these little birds might probably have some latent purpose, maybe if you investigate deep, you will find out that they are also looking for some food. But the man of Truth has no purpose at all—his energy is free energy. You get this free energy?—a lot of energy, but free and purposeless. Working a lot for the sake of working, doing a lot for the sake of doing.

He doesn’t work or do to reach, or gain, or achieve. All achievement has already happened, he is already home, but he still works because working is good fun. So, he is not a compulsive worker. There is no compulsion upon him anymore. He retains the freedom to rest, and he is always restful.

As for the body, the body must work, and the body keeps working. It is not the mandate, the constitution, the prakriti (physical nature) of the body to keep resting. You have hands so that they work, and when you work, rest comes on its own, does it not? You need not say that there must be a balance between rest and work. No. Hands must work, and if hands work, they get tired; and if they get tired, they sleep, and then there is rest. Work and rest are one. Rest is automatically guaranteed to the one who works. The harder you work, the deeper is your sleep, is it not?

So, as far as Prakriti is concerned, rest and work go together; and as far as you are concerned, the real one, the Truth, your nature is nothing but rest. You abide in your nature and don’t even think of providing rest to the hands. The one who is resting is anyway resting; the body is not meant to rest.

Don’t get alarmed. Ashtavakra is not asking you to let your hands turn lazy. The hands must keep working; the disquiet within, the restlessness within must get extinguished. I ask you: Can’t you work energetically without restlessness? Do you necessarily need chaos within, a cyclone within, unrest within to work at all? Is it necessary?

The Buddha used to quote three types of horses. Coming from his palatial background, it seems he was fond of horses. So, he would say that the worst type of horses are those that move only when spanked. That’s how our energy rises—it rises upon spanking. When there is trouble, we work; when the horse is spanked, it runs. We work to avoid trouble. For us, work is trouble; only when there is trouble do we work. So, most people necessitate trouble in order to work. If there is no trouble, they won’t work at all. So they bring their situations deliberately down to the point of trouble. Now, when there is trouble, they will be forced to work—it’s deep-deep slavery.

The fellow knows that no gentle methods will work upon him, so he plots against himself. He turns his situation bad and worse to the extent that he must now necessarily rise into action. But is that really needed? Is it not possible that one works with some dignity? Is it necessary that the horse runs only when spanked?

Is it necessary that only fear, and greed, and insecurity and nonsense of all kinds are able to elicit some movement from you? Can’t you work in joy?

Buddha would say that the highest kind of horses are the ones who run when just whispered to run. You need to give them the slightest pointer, and they move.

The worst kinds require to be beaten up. Those of the middle kind require to be shown the whip. Show the whip to them, bring the whip close to them; then they sense the danger, and then they move. Then, there are those of the top quality. You just go close to them, touch them, maybe gently massage them, and they know that it’s time to run. They don’t require to be slapped or whipped.

Atman (Absolute Truth) is dignity—those who live by the true Self live a life of dignity. Those who live by their falsenesses live a life devoid of all grace, all dignity; no respect, no glory is available to them.

The only song they dance to is the song of whiplashes. Otherwise, they do not know any music, any dance. Do you want to dance to this gentle breeze, or do you want to dance to the music of whiplashes? Tell me. That’s the Truth; that is the Atman that Ashtavakra talks of.

Q: Desirelessness leads to the Atman?

AP: Desirelessness leads to Atman; Atman leads to desirelessness. Do not ask where to begin, because you are in middle of that which you keep beginning and ending. You are asking for a starting point. "Does desirelessness lead to Atman? Do I begin with desirelessness?" Had you been stationary, I would have told you how and where to begin. But are you stationary? Haven’t you already begun? If you have already begun, no point asking: where and how to begin? Look at how you keep beginning, look at how all beginnings keep ending. Where is desirelessness? There are only desires, right? Acknowledge that. These are nice words. They should encourage us to look at our current state.

Desirelessness must encourage you to look at desires. Desirelessness by itself is nothing; ours is the world of desires.

We have been so convinced of the idea of the desire-action duality, that we find it impossible to conceive that there can be action without desire. Whenever we have seen, everywhere we have seen, just one thing: when a man is desirous, he acts; and when there is no desire, then there is no action. So, the desirelessness that you talk of will scare you away because the mind has only seen the desire-action causality. To the mind, only this exists—the desire-action causal link. The mind says, "Where there is desire, it causes action."

The more you will talk of desirelessness, the more difficult it will become for you to look at your desires.

There is a reason. As long as there is the body, it must act. Zero action means death, and if desire means action to the mind, desirelessness means action-lessness; and to the body action-lessness is death. The more you will talk of desirelessness, the more you will make desirelessness impossible for you. The body does not want to die; the psyche is even more afraid of dying, and you are talking of desirelessness. The mind says, “If no desire, then no action; and no action means death.” Why do you want to make it difficult for you?

Q: In the entire chapter, Ashtavakra talks about desires, and to have no desires.

AP: Ashtavakra is Ashtavakra. Why don’t you begin towards Ashtavakra from where you are? Ashtavakra is wonderful, but from where would you go to Ashtavakra? You’re neither Ashtavakra nor Janak; you are who you are, and you must start from who you are. You must start from where you are, and from where you are, all that can be seen is the desire-action causality.

Desire causes action, and action is life. So, desire is life; desirelessness, therefore, is death. You may keep saying anything, the body and the mind do not want death. So, rather look at desires. Desires are already there.

The world is so afraid of true spirituality because of words like ‘desirelessness’. The fellow says, “I don’t want to become desireless. If I enter spirituality, I’ll become desireless. I’ll have no desires left.” That’s very scary to say, let alone experience. You go and tell somebody, “Come, I’ll give you desirelessness”—how likely is he to come with you?

Does the spiritual man have desires? Does the spiritual man not have desires? Desires are there, but the spiritual man does not have them. So, the answer is both yes and no. Does the spiritual man have desires? Yes and no. Does the spiritual man not have desires? Yes and no.

In your case, what happens is that there is an identification with what you are wearing. So, if the kurta (Indian attire) is brown, you start saying, “I am brown.” You have a great identification with the mind, so if the mind has desires, you start saying, “I have desires.” In the case of the spiritual man, the natural man, the mind does what it must, and the self remains where it must. There is no conflation, no identification. So, are desires there? Yes. Does the spiritual man have desires? No. So, the answer is yes and no. "Desires are there but I don’t have them."

Would the desires be actionated and fulfilled? Again, yes and no. Some of the desires might indeed get fulfillment. I want water, I may get water. In a limited sense, the desire has been fulfilled. But have I been fulfilled? No. The desire has been fulfilled, I have not been fulfilled; I am always fulfilled. Are desires there? Yes. Do I have desires? No. Did the desire get fulfilled? Probably, yes. Did I get fulfilled? No. Sometimes, the desire will get frustrated also—the mind does not get what it wants. That’s rather the norm. So, did the mind get frustrated? Yes. Did I get frustrated? No.

Desirelessness is not the opposite of being desirous; it’s something different.

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