Questioner (Q): I have heard you say that life should be purposeless and aimless. But if we do not aim for anything, then how will we crack our exams? When you were our age, you too prepared for exams like MBA, IIT-JEE, civil services, etc. But now you say having aims is no good. Aren’t you contradicting yourself?
Acharya Prashant (AP): Living an aimless, purposeless life is the ultimate thing. That is the goal. However, given what we are, we cannot realize that goal instantaneously. If that could be done, if instantaneous liberation were possible this moment, wonderful. Have it, go right away for it.
So, purposelessness is the ultimate state beyond all states that one aspires for. But here is the contradiction. What is the state one aspires for? A state in which there is no purpose, no aim, and therefore no aspiration. So, what is your aspiration? To come to a point of freedom from aspirations. What is the desire you must have, then? To reach a point where you have exceeded all desires. What is the aim that you must carry? To set aims in a way that you come to a point of aimlessness.
There is a difference between ends and means. Purposelessness is the end, purposefulness is the means. Thoughtlessness is the end, thoughtfulness is the means. Desirelessness is the end, right desire is the means. Actionlessness is the end, right action is the means. Silence is the end, right word is the means. If you do not have the right word, what will take you to silence? Or if you are so tremendously gifted that you can, at the drop of a hat, come to absolute silence all by yourself, then nothing like it.
Unfortunately, that is not possible for most people. Even to come to the silence, most people require the aid of the right word. That right word is also called as the holy word. To come to desirelessness, most people will first of all require to cultivate the right desires. To come to a point in life where there is no goal left, most people will firstly require to set right goals for themselves.
And that is the difference between right and wrong goal, right desire and wrong desire, right word and wrong word; that is the only way you can differentiate between right and wrong. The right is that which will take you beyond itself. The right will enable you to exceed it, transcend it. The wrong will keep you confined to itself. That which you enter never to emerge out of is wrong for you.
The wrong is like walking into a jail. The right is like walking over a bridge. You get the difference? You walk into a jail only to remain confined; you step over a bridge, and very soon you find that you have crossed over. The right is that which enables you to cross over. The wrong welcomes you, and then you are trapped, shut firmly in—the gates are closed. No freedom, no escape.
So, you are asking, “But you must have targeted clearing those exams that you did?” Yes, of course I targeted. But now you would know the difference between target and target. You must know what you are targeting. You must know what is it within you that wants to achieve something. Rule of thumb: That which you want to achieve for yourself would be like a jail; that in which there is a larger purpose, a bigger vision involved would be like a bridge. Before you take the next step, ask yourself: What is it in front of me, a trap or bridge?
So, there are quite a few exams that I might have cleared. But you see, unfortunately, those institutions generally require you to take up specific professions, a work of a definite kind, work within a narrow spectrum. I think I can be satisfied that my work does not fall within the spectrum dictated by the institutions I have been through. I have not allowed anything to act as a jail for me. I walked in and I walked out. I am thankful to those institutions, I learned quite a few important lessons. At the same time, I have not allowed any institution to hold me captive. I am not doing what a typical IITian does. I am not doing what a typical IIM pass-out does. Yes, I did prepare for the civil services examination, I did clear the examination. But when I found that things aren’t going to suit me as they are, I resigned.
So, probably I used them as bridges. Otherwise, it is quite possible to get used by the institutions you come from to be enslaved by the targets that you set. One says, “This is the target that I set, now I have achieved it. How do I exceed it now? There is so much investment I have put in. How do I go beyond it now? Did I come to this point only to go beyond this point? It appears absurd.” So people, then, are held hostage by the targets they have achieved.
Reminds me of the Zen saying. It says, “Once you have reached the top of the hill, keep climbing.” There is another one that probably says that “The climb begins after you have reached the top of the hill.”
Do not allow the summit to declare a full stop to your revolution. It doesn’t matter how high the hill is, it will have a summit, and the summit is the limit of the hill. It cannot offer you any height beyond its summit. Once you reach the summit, begin the next climb, begin the real climb. No point settling down on the hilltop. Maybe you can rest awhile. There is a Maggi point there? Fine, chill. Have some juice, collect your breath, and then move on: charaiveti, charaiveti (keep moving, keep moving).
What IIT? What IIM? Thank you so much. You gave me so much, I shall be tremendously grateful. But you are not what I am born for. There is something far higher than institutional sanction or institutional certification that I am looking for. Mine is a very long road. Several institutions are there along the way, and they are all beautiful and grand institutions. Let me be there for a while, let me humbly accept what they can offer me, and then *charaiveti*—keep moving.
Q: How can one start working towards that higher purpose in life? It all seems very vague without any prior knowledge of spirituality.
AP: Begin from where you are. Your purpose does not come from a vacuum. You are the context of your purpose. So, look at yourself. What are your bondages? What is it that troubles you? What is it that you are afraid of? What is it that you are very desirous of? Start from there.
There is nobody who is not suffering. There is nobody who does not have an inner angst. There is nobody who does not have unfulfilled desires. And if these exist as troubles, obviously, what will be our purpose? Straight away to get rid of these troubles, right? There can be no other purpose.
You are the purpose. Your own welfare is the purpose. So, you start from there. What is my current state, and hence what do I need? And that need becomes the purpose. But for you to realize that need, you need to be very honest to yourself. You need to admit your fears. You need to admit your inadequacies. You need to admit what haunts you. You need to admit your real pain points. And that determines your purpose.
This is what exists in my life, and if this exists, it is pointless running after other things. If I have a heartache and I am running after luxury cars, then at some point I might find myself in a luxury car with heartaches. What is the point? The car is outside; the ache is inside. The car is fleeting; I am sometimes within it, sometimes I am not. The ache is constant. So, one thinks clearly and honestly of his situation and from there arises the purpose.
Do not determine your purposes by looking at the market or the opportunities that the world offers. That is what most people do, and that is not a wise way. Your purpose, what you want to do in life, or at least right now in life, must be determined by your own current state. And remember, that is your own particular, personal, current state. Nobody else even fully knows about it. So how can your purposes come from others or imitation of others?
See what is it that bugs you and don’t hide or suppress it. Tell yourself, “Ultimately one has to live with himself, and if there is some pain within, it is not worth living with it. I will address it.” And that becomes the purpose, and so on and so forth.
Q: But how do you proceed towards the purpose then? How do you act?
AP: You use all the resources that you have—your intellect, your education, your money, your muscles, whatever you have you devote it to that purpose. What else are you getting educated for? What is your knowledge for? What is your intellect for? Why can’t you think your way through your situation? So, honestly realize where you stand, and then commit all your resources, your entire being towards the resolution of your conflict.
Knowledge is not meant to offer you riches or comforts. Even if they come they are secondary. The real purpose of knowledge is to bring you to an inner fulfillment, which is the purpose of life. Irrespective of whether you are studying psychology or mathematics or management, remember what the purpose of your knowledge is.
Most of us think knowledge is meant to yield money and position. No, that is not the purpose really. Even if that is a purpose, that is a secondary purpose. That cannot be the real thing. When you buy a car, the purpose is not to have good air conditioning, or is it? You buy a car so that it takes you to your destination. Air conditioning is a nice thing, it makes the journey comfortable, it makes the whole thing easier, but air conditioning is not what you sit in the car for. And if you are one of those people who buy a car to enjoy the AC, then you are not reaching anywhere.