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Your liberation depends on you, just as your bondages do|| Acharya Prashant, on Ashtavakra Gita (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
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निर्वासनं हरिं दृष्ट्वा तूष्णीं विषयदन्तिनः ।

पलायन्ते न शक्तास्ते सेवन्ते कृतचाटवः ॥ 18.४६ ॥

nirvāsanaṃ hariṃ dṛṣṭvā tūṣṇīṃ viṣayadantinaḥ

palāyante na śaktāste sevante kṛtacāṭavaḥ

Seeing the desireless lion, the elephants of the senses silently run away, and if that is impossible, serve him like courtiers.

~ Ashtavakra Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 46

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Questioner (Q): Sir, it is said in the verse that if it is impossible to run away, then the elephants of the senses serve as courtiers. I feel distraction, and these distractions are not always pleasurable, but it now takes less time for peace to be restored. What is it that makes the elephants of the senses impossible to run away?

Acharya Prashant (AP): These two are in relation to each other—the lion and the elephant. They really do not have any objective strength. Their respective strengths are decided by their seer, by their experiencer. It is the experiencer that breathes life into them; it is the experiencer that, you could say, conjures them up. Otherwise, they don't really exist. Whenever two are being talked of—take this as a sutra (rule)—neither of the two really exists, because the two would always be in relation to each other. This is the classical dualistic paradigm.

You favor the lion, the lion is a lion then. You do not favor the lion, the lion is a squeaking puppy. Your proximity to the lion renders the lion its 'lion-ness'. Your proximity to the elephant gives the elephant its magnitude and power. You tilt towards the lion, you abandon the elephant, and the elephant would be reduced to a mere calf of a deer. What resilience would it then have in front of a roaring lion?

If you find that the elephants of the senses are really too big upon you—they are trampling your resistance under their feet—then just see who is riding those elephants. It's you who is the mahout—the trainer, the controller, the rider.

You remember the Trojan Horse? Looked so big. But was its power rendered to it by its bigness? The deadliness of the Trojan Horse did not come from its size but from the ones who were inside it. Similarly, the deadliness of the 'sense elephant' does not come from its size but from the one who is at its center, in its interior. And in the interior of both the elephant and the lion sits you. Who is the lion? You—choosing to be a lion. Who is the elephant? You—deserting the lion and favoring the elephant. These are not two distinct entities.

We talked about the dualistic paradigm. The two poles of duality, are they ever distinct? No. They are just the two faces of Maya, and Maya emanates from the Truth. You go this side—this side becomes powerful; you go that side—that side becomes powerful.

It's like the seesaw. Even the kids know the secret. You sit at one end of the seesaw and then you wonder—why the hell is this end so heavy? Why the hell is this end dominating the other one? Why is this end gravitating? Why is the other one levitating? Does the answer lie outside of your intention? It's your intention that is determining the shape of the seesaw. It is your intention that is determining the geometry and the winner.

You sit this side, and the other side would be hanging in the sky helplessly. Just get up, but get up carefully. If you are not careful, it would hurt your butt. Get up carefully and go to the other side, and the entire scenario would change, in fact, reverse. The one who appeared so confident in his weight and victory would now be hanging listlessly in space, and his erstwhile position would have been usurped by the one who looked equally helpless just a moment back. You are the king; you are the decision-maker.

In mathematical terms, you could say L + E = K or L x E = K, where K is a constant, L is the strength of the lion, E is the strength of the elephant. Forget K because we are talking of something that is constant. Why not call it 'I'? L + E = I. L and E represent the respective strengths of the lion and the elephant, and I is a constant. So, where does the strength of the lion come from? No, it does not really come from the 'I'; it comes from the reduced strength of the elephant. 'I' is the decision-maker; 'I' can decide to invest itself fully in the lion. Then, what happens to the elephant? It gets totally enfeebled. The elephant is now starved. It is now merely hollow bones and loose skin. Or the 'I' can invest itself fully in the elephant, or the 'I' may decide to split itself 50-50.

Then, there would be a war raging between the lion and the elephant, and you would say, "Oh my God! Maya is as powerful as the Truth."

No, Maya is only as powerful as you want it to be. You are not being puppeted by Maya; Maya depends totally on you for her sustenance. If you ever find her dominating you, you must know that this is what you have wanted.

Never forget your essential reality beyond your immediate fact. You are really all-powerful, though that is not testified by the way you live, eat, breathe, act, decide, think. We live lives of helpless compulsiveness.

Looking at the way we exist, it becomes impossible to believe that we are omnipotent, but that indeed is our essential reality, which means we really can never be puppets; which means whatever is happening to us is with our due consent. Unless you acknowledge this, there can be no remembrance of your True Self.

If you will remain insistent that you are struggling, defeated, limited, forced, then your belief will become your false destiny.

Spirituality consists of no instrument for your welfare other than your own realization.

Does spirituality involve the use of muscles or machines? Even the use of intellect is useful only till a point in the spiritual process. Finally, the only instrument that helps and works is your acknowledgment—your own power.

The fellow is sitting in the car on the driver's seat having pulled the handbrake with the maximum power he can, and he is begging all and sundry to push the car from behind. So, one fellow comes and he is asked, “Sir, who are you?”

He says, "My name is Yoga."

“Sir, my car is stuck. Can you push it a little?”

So, 'Yoga' goes and starts trying. A lady arrives. Quite devoted she appears—beautiful and athletic. “Ma'am, who are you?”

“I am Bhakti.”

“Can you assist a little? Just lend a hand.”

A wrestler comes over having built himself through sustained action over maybe many decades. All muscles—100 kg, 6'5''. “What's your name, sir?”

“I'm Karma.”

“Sir, you are most well-placed to help me out. Kindly push this car.”

Then a sober-looking meditative fellow comes over. “What's your name?”

“I'm Gyan Prasad.”

“Prasad sir, can you join the other three?”

One fellow comes madly dancing. “What's your name?”

“I'm Tantra Singh.”

“Sir, can you just put your clothes together for a while and help those gentle souls in the behind? Remember you have to push the car.”

He too joins them. All this while, our man in the driver's seat is doing just one thing—what? Ensuring that the handbrake remains firm and tight.

Spirituality, therefore, is about addressing your intention. At least, that's how I have always looked at spirituality. Bhakti, Karma, Gyan, Yoga, Tantra, Mantra, Jap—who will help you when you are in the driver’s seat? When the handbrake is in your hand, who will help you? Do you want to be helped?

They all may together keep pushing, but the vehicle won't move an inch. Not only that, if one of them starts to succeed, you may get anxious and angry and decide to run the vehicle in the reverse gear. You will find all four-five of them running helter-skelter. They were pushing you forward, and you actually decided to run in the reverse.

Who can help you, who can save you, who can push you? You are the driver; you are the master. You hold the gear, you hold the break, you hold the key. You are the key. Bhakti is of great help, so is Gyan, so is Karma, provided you really want to be helped.


What is 'lion-ness' then? 'Lion-ness' is your decision to be helped. What is 'elephant-ness' then? 'Elephant-ness' is your decision to stay as you are.

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