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You and the body || On Mundaka Upanishad (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
26 min
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एतस्माज्जायते प्रणो मनः सर्वेन्द्रियाणि च । खं वायुर्ज्योतिरापः पृथिवी विश्वस्य धारिणी ॥

etasmājjāyate praṇo manaḥ sarvendriyāṇi ca khaṃ vāyurjyotirāpaḥ pṛthivī viśvasya dhāriṇī

Life and mind and the senses are born from Him, and the sky and the wind and light and the waters and earth upholding all that is.

~ Verse 2.1.3

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Acharya Prashant (AP): We are two. And there are always two ways to look at our existence. One is to look at our physical body and say that we are purely physical, material. Who am I? (Pointing at the body) This. The other way is to see that you are probably not the body, rather you are with a body or you have a body. Don’t you say my body? You don’t say me body.

Out of these two ways, the first way is more common, more straightforward, and easier to take.

This duality in our existence is the fundamental reason behind all human suffering. On one hand, there is this pre-programmed body that has its own processes and intentions as well; on the other hand, there is the invisible consciousness that is related to this body, attached to this body, but at the same time having an objective very different from that of the body. Hence the twoness.

This twoness is not greatly experienced by animals. It is not experienced by any life form apart from human beings. Animals really do not have a force of consciousness that may potentially rally or revolt against their physical being, or you could say that an animal’s consciousness is almost always in agreement with its physical being. What the animal’s body wants, its consciousness readily agrees to. If the animal wants to eat—because its body, its stomach, is now in need of food—then its mind immediately starts finding ways to get food without questioning, without resisting. If the body needs food, then the only purpose and objective of mind is to seek food. That’s how an animal lives.

But in the case of human beings there is a clear dissonance; hence I said we are two. The body may want one thing, but the mind may want something totally different. The body may say, “I need sleep,” but the mind may say, “No, I am in the middle of a movie, I want to finish the movie off”; or the mind may say, “I am driving right now. I need to complete the journey, I can’t go to sleep”; or the mind may say, “I have a very very critical task to complete, I cannot go to bed.”

The reasons that the mind may have may differ in their dimension. The mind may say, “I want to consume, hence I don’t want to sleep”; or the mind may say, “I have a tremendous responsibility, I want to be liberated; hence I cannot go to sleep.” Whatever be the reason, the mind has a certain autonomy, the mind has a certain choice. Potentially, that choice is available.

So, there is always an inner conflict. The conflict is always between your pre-programmed self, your prakritik self, and the urge of your consciousness for liberation.

Now, let’s see what the Upanishad is saying. The Upanishad is saying, “Life and mind and the senses are born from Him.”

Do you understand what is really being said here? If you are the physical body, the conflict that we just talked of, that is sought to be resolved here. How? If you are the physical body alone, then surely anything physical comes from something physical. Where does anything come from? (Picks up a cellphone) This is a machine. This is a machine, it comes from another machine, and that another machine comes from another machine. Or you could say this is material, and all material comes from material.

So, if you say that you come from physical bodies, then what have you decided for yourself in terms of your identity? If you say, “I come from two physical bodies, one man, one woman,” then what have you told yourself regarding your identity? “I am a body,” right?

Now, there was this conflict: Am I a body or am I consciousness? We said man is characterized by that one conflict: Am I body or am I consciousness? The moment you say, “I am a son or daughter of two human beings,” you have settled the conflict in the favor of the body. Because if I am coming from bodies, then I am a body; then I cannot argue in favor of consciousness. Settled, game over.

The Upanishad here is decreeing otherwise. The Upanishad is saying, “Life and the mind and the senses are born from Him.”

Your life is not coming from two other life forms. This existing life form is not coming from two preceding life forms, a male and a female. You are actually coming from Him.

Now, the fact on the ground is, as far as your body is concerned, it is coming from your father and your mother, right? And yet the Upanishad is saying that, “No, but you are coming from some other father.” What is the Upanishad really saying, then?

You are not the body.

We cannot argue against the obvious fact that your body can’t come except from two other bodies; nobody can debate that, right? The Upanishad is saying, “Still, all life and senses really come from Him,” which basically means that you are not the body, your real identity is your consciousness. And if your real identity is your body, then you are an animal, because in the case of an animal it is very true that the consciousness is not at the central position, it is the body that is at the central position.

Animals of one particular species do not usually behave very differently from each other, do they? Why? Because their bodies are not very different from each other. Why are two cats not very different from each other in terms of behavior? Because they are not very different from each other in terms of their body. Basically, their body becomes their behavior. Therefore, if you are someone who is body-centric and whose life and actions and thoughts and emotions and behavior come from the body, then you are a cat.

Have you ever seen a cat and a dog behaving alike? Why don’t a cat and a dog behave in the same way? Because their bodies are different, as simple as that. Why don’t a man and a woman, among human beings, behave in the same way? Because their bodies are different, as simple as that. There is no great or deep reason behind all this. Are man and woman different? Yes, they are. Why? Because their bodies are different, full stop. No other reason. Will a rabbit and a lion behave the same way? Why not? Because their bodies are different.

So, animals are totally captive to their bodies. Now, let’s come to human beings. Do human beings behave greatly differently from each other? Potentially, yes; same species, yet there can be a world of difference. And that tells you who we really are.

Animals cannot behave very differently from each other, human beings can—can’t we? You can have a human being as a Krishna, and you can have a human being as a Kansa. Among rabbits that is not going to happen. You cannot have an elevated rabbit like Krishna, and you cannot have a fallen rabbit as Kansa; you will not have that. Some marginal difference in behavior can be there, but nothing beyond that. But among human beings, there is the sky and there is the earth. Do you see this?

Now, you could argue that even that could probably be because of genetic reasons, because even in the same species genetic material does differ. So, maybe Krishna was genetically different compared to Kansa, and those genetic differences were dictating the difference in thought and action. We can counter that. The same person, at one moment in his life, behaves in a very fallen way, indeed a perverse way, and that very same person, in his same lifetime, is capable of behaving in a greatly elevated way. Have the genes changed? No. What has changed? The state of consciousness.

Now you should know which side you must take. Are you the body or the consciousness? Do not go by desire, go by the facts of life.

The fact of life is that even if you want to consider yourself a body, you actually are consciousness. Your consciousness is central; your body is something that you have. You are the consciousness, you have the body; that is the difference.

You are the consciousness, you have the body. Do you understand this? And that is the point the Upanishads, the Rishis, are trying to drill into us.

It’s not that the body is not a fact; the body is a fact, but not the central one. The body indeed does exist, and not only so, the state of our body influences the state of our consciousness; we know that. Why does your consciousness start behaving erratically—starts sinking in fact—when you are drunk? Because something has happened to your physical system. And when your physical system is influenced, your consciousness also gets influenced, doesn’t it?

But in spite of that correlation, in spite of that relationship, still consciousness has a certain autonomy, and that autonomy is your hope, your desire—it is your last chance. That perfect autonomy is what we all are craving for. Can we have a consciousness that is independent of everything? And ‘everything’ meaning the body, nothing else. Can we have a consciousness that is not dictated by the world? When I say the world, I mean the body because it is the body that comes into the world.

The Rishis have delivered the verdict here. Your body may come from the parents, but you have not come from your parents. And if you have come from your parents, then you are a cat. You won’t want to ascribe that species to your parents, right? If you are a cat, then your parents are cats. So, if not for yourself, then for your parents, avoid being a cat.

You come from your parents only to the extent your body comes from two other bodies. But the real you, your consciousness, does not come from anybody, it comes directly from there—where? We do not know. Because we do not know, because we cannot ever even potentially know, we call that Brahman . Consciousness comes from there because we know for certain that our consciousness is not fully tied, not inexorably tied, to our body. Redemption is possible.

Now you also know what is the measure of our humanness: the level of your consciousness. And how otherwise can you define the level of your consciousness? The more your consciousness is free of the impulses of your body, the higher is your humanness, and the more you live a body-centered life, the more of an animal you are. Isn’t that very mathematical, very obvious, very clear?

So, even if a person is greatly rich or extremely attractive but that person is living for the sake of the body—and what does the body want? Look at the animals. What do they want? Food, shelter, territorial occupation, territorial hegemony, control over the tribe so that they can have the best female to mate with; all these things. So, you might be a very influential person in the society. But if your influence is only in these dimensions, then you are just a beast. You may have a great house; animals too are looking to expand their territories, are they not? Your product might have high market share; that is what even animals are looking for. You might be visiting the best restaurants; animals too are quite particular about food, aren’t they?

All that does not make you a great human being; all that only makes you more of an animal. Forget about being a great human being—you are not even a human being at all! The fellow was hungry, so he left an important job aside and started binging, and then he got so full and so tight and so inflated that he fell asleep. Why call this fellow a man? Call him a cockroach or something. I mean, that is not an abuse; that is a fact. Is that not a fact?

You are supposed to do something at 11 p.m. tonight. Instead, what did you do? You ate a lot because you just cannot manage your physical impulses. And what happened when you ate so much? (Leans back and closes his eyes) Why do you even carry a name? Does any animal have a name? Its only name is animal. Human beings have names. Do you understand why human beings have names? Because human beings are potentially different from each other.

Animals don’t have names because no animal is really different from another animal. One rabbit is not really different from another rabbit, so it would be illogical to give them names. You can give them names if they are your pets, for reasons of fondness you may give them names, but the fact is one rabbit is not really different from another rabbit. But one man is really different from another man—potentially. Actually, one man is not really different from another man because we all behave as per our bodily instincts. But if we do that, then we are not human beings at all and we don’t deserve to carry names.

Then, “Life and mind and senses are born from Him, and the sky, the wind, the light, the waters, and the earth upholding all that is.”

First thing is, consciousness comes from Him; then the Rishis proceed to say something even more gripping. Firstly, they said you come from Him; now they are saying your entire universe comes from Him. Now, that has to be understood. Why?

The entire universe is obviously not an objective reality; it is to you . It appears in your consciousness. Consciousness comes first, the world comes later.

This is something that rational people, and even science, find hard to come to terms with. That is why we keep talking of the world as it was a trillion years back. You cannot talk of that because the world is only as it is to the perceiving consciousness. Today the world appears like this because we are like this. Today the world appears the way it does only because we are the way we are. Now, what you are saying is, “We take our form as it is today, and using this form as it is today, we try to visualize the world as it was a trillion years back.” Even the desire to visualize the world of a trillion years back comes to us as we are today.

Now, the consciousness of a time is as per that time. A trillion years back, was consciousness the same as it is today? Then how do you know how the world looked a trillion years back? To whom? To the perceiving consciousness as it was then . But do you know how it was then? You do not know that. And even if you try to think of that consciousness, you will do that by using your consciousness as it is today. So, you will miserably fail.

The world is only to the one perceiving it. The world is not really an objective reality. Do you see this?

You come from Him, and all this that you perceive, that too comes from that same source. In fact, you and the world are not different from each other in that sense. The proof is that the world cannot be without you—we said the world cannot be without the perceiving consciousness—and your consciousness, this particular perceiving consciousness, is so dependent on your body that it cannot be without the world. Can you be conscious without the body? And where does this body come from? The world as it is today.

The world as it is today is giving birth to this body as it is today, and then you perceive the world. You are dependent on the world, the world is dependent on you. The two in that sense are not quite different from each other. And if the two are not really different from each other, they are coming from the same source—coming from the same source not in the sense of a historical fact but in the sense of psychic origination.

You cannot keep going back in time, you cannot keep going back in history, and one day come upon some Truth or Brahman or some fanciful God. God is not located at some point in history. At this moment, if you are conscious, then the source of your consciousness is that which you call as Brahman . But then, we go by stories, and our stories tell us that once upon a time God, fed up of his idling, decided to do something awkward and created the world.

This is something that will require a lot of meditation. You will have to let it echo in your mind; you will have to keep trivial matters aside. You will have to stay with this question, this matter, for long. Even if there are other matters that become important to you in your humdrum living, you will still have to let this question remain in process somewhere at the back of your mind. It is only then that you will get the real input of the Rishi’s exertion. For now, it is sufficient that you realize that you are not a cat.

Questioner (Q): Acharya Ji, you said that we are consciousness. According to the Upanishads, it has come from that unidentified source. But Jiddu Krishnamurti says that the content of consciousness is collectively known as consciousness, and that content has also come from society, peer group, family, experiences, situations. Maybe I had bad situations, bad experiences. So, is that content my consciousness?

AP: Do not selectively quote him. He also says that the highest goal, the best state, is consciousness without content. The usual contaminated and corrupted state of consciousness is that its content is coming from the world. Basically, our mind is full of influences; that is the usual state. But nobody wants to stay in that usual state. The state that we are aspiring for is one in which consciousness is cleaned of its content, or at least consciousness is not sticking to its content. Even if there is content, consciousness is just holding it, not sticking to it, not getting attached to it.

Q: You said that one must not live like an insect, that, for example, if you have to do urgent work at 11:30, you just start eating and go to sleep. So, the pleasure of eating is also enjoyed by the consciousness, not by the body. The body does not enjoy because the body is also in the…

AP: Because there is something in the consciousness that is attached to the body. So, obviously your consciousness has levels. At one level, your consciousness is deeply attached to the body, so much so that if the body perishes, your consciousness will also just disappear. It is that lower level of consciousness, or you could say, it is that the bodily level of consciousness that gives great weightage to the taste of the food. At the same time, there are higher pleasures possible to consciousness. You have to choose the right pleasure. If you are at a lower level of consciousness, you will prefer a lower pleasure. If you are at a higher level of consciousness, you will prefer a higher pleasure.

Spirituality is not about abandoning pleasure. It is about going for a higher pleasure.

Obviously, food is a pleasure. But why not go for higher pleasures? That kind of pleasure is available even to an insect, no? All insects enjoy food. Being a human being, can’t you provide to yourself, gift to yourself, a higher pleasure? If you can have both, wonderful. It is not necessary that you have to have an either-or thing. But there are times in life when you cannot have both. At those times, it must be clear to you which one to go for. Nobody is going to go without food, fine. But if it is a choice between food and responsibility, then you must know.

Q: You have said there is an experiencer and the objects that are experienced, but Jiddu Krishnamurti said the experiencer is the experienced. So, is there any experiencer?

AP: The experiencer decides the experience, dictates the experience. For example, here am I—consider this hall—and I have said a few things tonight. But if you will ask what the various people here have experienced, different persons would have had different experiences. How is that possible? The fact of the matter is, I am one body, one person, saying one particular thing. How is it so that different friends here are having different experiences? It is because the experiencer decides the experience.

Q: But that experiencer is also a thought.

AP: That experiencer might be a thought, but then, you have identified with that thought. That experiencer could be anything; you live as that. You could as well say, “I am right now talking to a thought,” and I have no problems with that. But does saying that relieve you of your misery? You may stand up and say, “The experiencer is a thought, the questioner too is a thought,” and I will say, “Of course.” But how does that help you?

Q: How to get rid of this experiencer?

AP: You can’t get rid of this experiencer. You can elevate it, you can sublimate it. You are the experiencer. You are asking, “How do I get rid of myself?” You can’t even get rid of your left earlobe. How will you get rid of yourself? You can elevate yourself, just as you know very well how to sink yourself and dump yourself. Don’t you know that? The session is about to get over—go and get drunk! Similarly, you can elevate yourself. That is what you are to do here.

Q: But Acharya Ji, there is something very inherent, for example, suppose I see a very good looking girl, I am supposed to attract that…

AP: ‘Supposed to’, meaning? It is written in some constitution of existence?

Q: It is not in my hands, sir!

AP: There are other things that are in your hands, that is another matter. But what do you mean by ‘supposed to’?

Q: It happens automatically, Acharya Ji!

AP: You are a cat.

Q: But at the same time, I also know that I am getting…

AP: Then you are not a cat. Cats are cute only sometimes. You don’t want to always be carrying a cat on your shoulders. Sometimes it is fun to act like the body, no? Fun to act like a body. Fine, sometimes you can go towards the girl and all that. Fine, act like that. She will also have a good time, she too is acting. Both of you can act for some time and then take a break. Now you are consciousness. Alright, be a conscious cat. How does that sound? Even if you have to be a cat, be a conscious cat.

Q: Acharya Ji, I once watched a dialogue that was happening between two philosophers of non-duality. One was saying that the moment you wake up in the morning and go to the washroom, only at that time the washroom exists, but before that it does not.

AP: The question is: for whom? Why is he convincing the other? For the other, the washroom did exist even when the first one was asleep. So, the debate is pretty absurd. Yes, when you were in a particular state of consciousness, maybe it did not exist for you; but the one you are telling this thing to was awake at that time, and for him the washroom did not merely exist, it was also used. He could have recorded the sound of the flush.

Q: But Acharya Ji, the Upanishads are saying that everything is consciousness.

AP: For you. The Upanishads are not talking to a crowd. They are talking to you.

Q: Another philosopher took a step forward: he said that the washroom does not exist even when you are in that washroom.

AP: The washroom does not exist only if the fellow saying this does not exist. First of all, he has to admit his own non-existence. He cannot say, “I am proclaiming that the washroom does not exist, and hence it does not exist.” If you exist, the washroom does, because you cannot exist without the washroom; you will dirty the place all over. How is it possible that you exist but the commode doesn’t? So, if you do exist, then the washroom does exist.

Q: Acharya Ji, I also exist in my consciousness and the washroom also exists in my consciousness.

AP: Wherever you exist, the washroom is there.

Q: As a fact it is there, but…

AP: When you go to a cinema hall, then you use the washroom there, no? When you come back, then you use the washroom in your own house. So, wherever you are, the washroom is there. And when there is no washroom, then you turn the roadside into a washroom. But the washroom is necessarily there. You cannot say, “I am there but the washroom is not.” That is not possible.

Q: Acharya Ji, it is a fact, but talking about the higher reality…

AP: Facts do not admit any buts.

Q: But according to the higher reality, according to the Upanishads, they exist in your consciousness.

AP: There is no higher reality. There can only be cleaner and cleaner facts. What do you mean by ‘higher reality’? A higher reality that is in abdication of facts?

Never forget the fundamentals. Whenever you say, “Such a thing exists,” the question must always be: for whom?

The thing can go to the extent of the fellow, actually in the moment of using the washroom, declaring quite loudly that the washroom does not exist. He is unzipped and peeing and shouting, “The washroom does not exist!” It probably does not. But first reach that stage where you can say, “I do not exist.” But when you are to say, “I do not exist,” you just see the pointlessness of everything, including this declaration. Then there is a silence. What is the point saying “I do not exist”?

So, as long as you are somebody who has to say something, say, “I do exist.” And when you will not exist, then there will be merely silence.

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