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Your pious deeds will not help you || Acharya Prashant, on Ashtavakra Gita (2018)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
8 min
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अलमर्थेन कामेन सुकृतेनापि कर्मणा ।

एभ्यः संसारकान्तारे न विश्रान्तमभून्मनः ॥ 10.७ ॥

alamarthena kāmena sukṛtenāpi karmaṇā

ebhyaḥ saṁsārakāntāre na viśrāntamabhūn manaḥ || 10.7 ||

Enough of prosperity, sensuality and pious deeds. The mind did not find repose in these in the dreary forest of the world.

~ Ashtavakra Gita, Chapter 10, Verse 7

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Questioner (Q): "Prosperity, pleasure, pious deeds enough, in the dreary forest of the world the mind finds no rest." Here, the word ‘pious deeds’ does not seem to belong to the family, which the word ‘prosperity’ and ‘pleasure’ belong to. As per my understanding, 'prosperity' and 'pleasure' seem to belong to the materialistic part of life, while 'pious deeds' seem to belong to the Truth. Please help me understand what Ashtavakra means by the word ‘pious deeds’.

Acharya Prashant (AP): No, not that way. In the world of Ashtavakra, these three belong to the same dimension—prosperity, pleasure, and PD; PD referring to pious deeds. Prosperity, pleasure, and PD—they belong to the same dimension. Yes, you are right; generally, in worldly terms, in moralistic terms, prosperity and pleasure are held as something material and worldly, and pious deeds, virtues, PD are held as something belonging to the other world. No, not all.

We have had a long discourse on the difference between morality and spirituality in the very last session. I would advise you to go through that again. Pious deeds belong to the world of morality, and morality is not spirituality. Na papam, na punyam, na dukham, na sukham (neither sin nor virtue; neither sorrow nor pleasure).

You go to a Dattatreya, or a Ribhu, or an Ashtavakra—they all will be quick to denounce virtues as much as they denounce vices because they focus on the actor and not the action. They focus on the doer and not on the deeds. Because they do not focus on the deeds, so for them, pious deeds are only as good or bad as profane deeds. For them, PD or profanity both belong to the same dimension. They are talking of something beyond that dimension.

In most cultures, in most denominations, it is considered great to do good deeds—not in the world of Ashtavakra, not in the world of real spirituality. Here, no deed is stamped as good and no deed is stamped as bad—you can put it this way. Or you can put it another way, and a more accurate way, that deeds that are stamped as bad and deeds that are stamped as good, are both kept in the same container. What is that container? The one that contains stamped deeds. If the deed is stamped, put it in this vessel; doesn’t matter what the stamp reads. The stamp can read good or the stamp can read bad, or the stamp can read indifferent or something. If it is stamped, put it in this vessel; and this vessel we do not want to look at—throw it away.

This is not easily digestible to those who have been conditioned to live moral lives. For them, there are specifically good deeds and specifically bad deeds. Charity for them is, for example, a good deed. Without understanding the real meaning of charity, they keep on donating, the result being that such donations only enhance the impurity within—the ego. They cause the ego to puff up even more.

Without knowing the real meaning of violence, they will keep denouncing wars. The result is that wars keep happening, more and more people keep suffering. Without knowing the real meaning of help, they continue to keep helping. Without knowing the real meaning of anger, they will continue to criticize anger. Something is good, something is bad. Of course, such a classification helps only the hare-brained. That’s an insult to the hare. The hares are a close relative of the rabbits, and I dare not do anything that offends my rabbits. So, that word should be put off the record.

One has to be lazy to just follow the conventional separation between good and bad. If you are someone who has no light of his own, then it suits you to just ask your neighbor, "What is considered good?" And he tells you all these things are considered good: "Keep your house clean, wash your face twice a day, be a good girl, obey the parents, respect the neighbors, bow to the elderly." And because you are so lazy, you don’t bother to inquire. So, you just follow these things.

You are equally lazy in inquiring about the things that are prohibited. They tell you, "Don’t drink, don’t sleep with strangers, don’t do this, don’t do that." Then you’re fine. "Don’t do this, and now I am okay." Now, obviously, I’m not advising you to reverse the titles—that all those things that are considered bad, you start taking them as good. There are many who do that in the name of rebellion. Conventional morality forbids drugs, so, “Let’s do drugs, man!”

Q: The liberals.

AP: The liberals, for example, yeah —“Let’s do everything that offends the moralists.” I’m not advising that. I am indifferent to the conventional labels. I’m saying, you have it within you to know for yourself. Know for yourself, and the decision then will be spontaneous.

When I used to go to college students, I used to ask them, “What was considered good, is it still considered good? So, how do you know that that which is considered good would be considered good in the future?" Tell me. Just 100 years back, what was socially sanctioned, is it still approved? It is not approved anymore.

Even today, things that are considered admissible in one community, are they admissible and acceptable in other communities? They are not. Even state laws vary. In one country, you have one thing that is barred; in the other country, it is freely allowed. What is good and what is bad? (Pointing at his head) Figments of man’s fertile top storey.

Q2: Why wisdom in action is not so immediate for me? How can I overcome this?

AP: What you probably mean is why you are not able to put into action that which wisdom has brought to you.

Realization and action are always together. You cannot realize and not act. To realize is to lose your decision-making capacity. To realize is to surrender your decision-making capacity; then realization decides and acts on your behalf.

So, if you say that you realize and yet the right action is not happening, then either you do not realize at all, or you are matching the action happening against your image of the right action. Please appreciate.

Realization may bring about an action that you have never imagined or conceptualized as the right action.

So, even if that right action—truly right action— comes about, you would still remain dissatisfied because that action is not what you imagined to be the right action. So, either that is the possibility, or you are not realizing anything at all.

If you say that you know and yet not act, then probably you do not know at all.

Knowing has tremendous power, absolutely tremendous power—it leaves you helpless. Once you know, action starts happening. Even if your latent fears then try to impede that action, it won’t get stopped.

So, when you say that you have realized, pause for a while and ask yourself, “Have I?”

Hint: If you have realized, you can have no other concern. If along with realization, you have five other concerns, then rest assured, you haven’t realized.

Once realization comes, realization itself is the biggest concern—the driver, the master. Along with realization, if you face five other issues—"Oh, I realize but…; Oh, I realize but…; I know that but…"—if these several ‘buts’, or even one of them, are present in your mind, then rest assured that realization is not yet there.

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