Questioner (Q): What is the highest?
Acharya Prashant (AP): The question is - What is the highest? What is the utmost highest? And the answer, as usual, begins in negativa. They (referring to the Rishis of Upanishads) said the highest is not prāṇa ; the highest is not the sense organs; the highest is not mind, thoughts, feelings or actions either; these are negated. What is meant by this kind of negation? Senses are not the highest, thereby, anything that is perceptible or experienceable through the senses just cannot be the highest. Keep all sensory perceptions and experiences in their place; they don't deserve to be taken to head; they don't deserve to be given an importance they don't really merit. Thought is not the ultimate which means anything that can be thought of cannot be the ultimate. Whatsoever it is that thought can reach and touch, cannot be the ultimate. Therefore, have some humility; therefore, do not be too dependent on thinking or too identified with thought.
Prāṇa , which is the internal mechanism we call as life cannot be the highest. So, even the value of this thing we called as 'life' is not the highest. There is something more valuable than life itself. There is something so valuable that even life can be forsaken for its attainment. There is something that deserves even the ultimate sacrifice of life itself. Do not think that remaining alive and having a long life is the utmost goal. No, if need be, one can choose physical death for the sake of something higher, what that something is, would come next.
“Action”, it is said here, is not the highest. So, anything that you can obtain through action will remain of relatively secondary value. Therefore, do not be too conceited about your actions or deeds. Your actions and your attainments can take you only so far. There is a limit to what your doership can bring to you. Now, this suffices in itself. Actually, there is very little need now to specify what is the highest. What is not the highest has been assertively spoken of. An affirmation, a positive affirmation is now really not needed. Yet something is additionally told to the disciple, not because it is really needed but because the mind is such that it keeps asking for some positive thing or idea to hold on to. If you just deal with it in the negatives, it becomes dissatisfied. It says, "Tell me precisely, specifically – What is the highest? Just indicating to me what the highest is not does not suffice”. And so, the Guru honours the disciple's demand and he says “ Brahm , the Untouched, the Witness is the Highest”. Anything that you can see, smell, touch cannot be the highest; anything that you can even think of or imagine cannot be the highest; anything that you can create or win through your deeds cannot be the highest. What is common between all these? The common between all these is - Ego.
At the centre of all thought is the ‘I’ feeling; behind all doership is the ‘I’; behind all imaginations and perceptions and experiences is the ‘I’. The ‘I’ is being taught a lesson in humility. It doesn't matter which way you choose to operate; your operations will not bring contentment to you. You are by definition an incomplete, dissatisfied, rather fictitious being. The movement of such an entity does not change its fundamental nature. So, your movement is not going to bring satisfaction to you if satisfaction is not inherent in your very design, very constitution. Are you getting it? If your eyes are defective, then looking around a lot is not going to heal them; in fact, if you look around a lot trusting your defective eyes, it is quite likely that the rest of your body may also get defective, no? But that's the way the ego operates - It is fundamentally flawed but it does not want to turn inwards and look at its fundamental flaws. Instead, it says, “Remaining as I am, remaining fundamentally flawed; I will do, think, perform, attain, experience and hold the vain belief that all of this or some of this will deliver me fullness”. Obviously, such a hope is frustrated all throughout; but the Ego is a stubborn entity. Failure after failure, frustration after frustration, remain insufficient to deter it from its ways to teach it a lesson. It insists and it continues to suffer.
The dangerous, rather tragic part is - Suffering becomes food to the Ego. Suffering does not really drill humility into the Ego, suffering fattens the Ego. The Ego starts saying, “I am a sufferer. I am a victim”. The moment the Ego dawns the identity of a sufferer or a victim, it becomes even more obstinate in itself. It becomes even more deeply entrenched in its own place, and that is the reason why we are how we are. Else, the basic principle of action and result of action, kárma and kármphála should have been sufficient to deliver liberation to all of us. One does not live rightly; in consequence, one suffers. This should have been sufficient but it does not prove to be sufficient because suffering in the form of result of action, kármphála does not teach us, or educate us, refine us, or elevate us. Suffering usually has a very opposite effect on us; it makes us even more determined to continue in our stupid ways.
For example, I am looking for this (picks up a pen from the table); it’s been of great help to us; (smilingly) we'll laud it once the session is over. So, I'm looking for this (puts the pen back on the table); it’s here, right? Right over here. But I'm looking that way (looks in the opposite direction of the position of the pen), (picks up the pen) I need this; I want this; this is my requirement (puts the pen back on the table), but I'm looking the other way (looks in the opposite direction of the position of the pen). And to get this (points to the pen), I travel a kilometre towards, (pointing in the opposite direction of the position of the pen) - let's say that's the south - I travel a kilometre towards the south. What would be the result? Disappointment, right? I won't get this (refers to the pen) there (refers to the opposite direction of the position of the pen). It (refers to the pen) was here (points to the pen), close by. I was looking the wrong way and I went a kilometre in the wrong direction.
Now, what do you expect should be my learning? My learning should be that - "I am looking in the wrong direction. Let me just turn my attention towards the right thing, and maybe so much of effort won't be needed." It doesn't happen this way. Guess what happens? What happens is – No, not only do we again repeat it; something far worse. I say “I didn't get the pen because I went only a kilometre in its search”. I tell myself “I'll work harder and I'll be smarter. This time, instead of going on foot, I'll use some kind of a vehicle and go 10 kilometres. I failed because I searched only for a kilometre”. So, what do I do? I apply all my intellect to develop technologies that can take me faster and longer. So, I go 10 kilometres. What do I get? The pen? No. Disappointment, again.
What lesson do I learn? The lesson that I learned - 10 kilometres is not sufficient, 10 kilometre is not sufficient. And three or four motivator kind of peoples around me; they could be from the family or some other place, and they say, “Dude, you really don't seem to have it in you. You need to have some fire. You need to show some spirit”.
And so, I work harder, work harder as humanity has, and in the next 50 years, I come up with another marvellous technology that takes me a thousand kilometres and very swiftly. And I go a thousand kilometres and return and the technology is so great that when I return, I'm absolutely happy – “You know what? I did a thousand kilometres!” And I'm applauding myself, I'm patting my own back and the world is cheering me; why? Because I have done a thousand kilometres. And I've totally forgotten that I have still not obtained what I set out for. In all this effort, in all this tamāśā (commotion), the original objective is totally forgotten. That's how the Ego operates; it says “I can suffer; I am prepared to tremble in thirst; I am prepared to tolerate all kinds of tortures, self-inflicted ones. But I'll not change my ways, I'll not change my 'ways'. Keeping these ways intact, I am prepared to go farther and farther. I am prepared to increase my speed; I am prepared to change my speed but I am not prepared to change my fundamental tendency; that I'm not prepared to change."
And that's what mankind has been doing over all these centuries. We have become faster, smarter, more efficient, all in the same direction. And we have become very self-conceited; we keep congratulating ourselves; we keep telling ourselves “You know what? Look at this, look at that, look at this”. We don't ask ourselves - “Is this what we really wanted?” And, is this delivering you contentment? (Picks up the pen, again) It's still waiting, nobody to look at it (refers to the pen). Are you getting it? That's how the Ego operates. Does it want Truth? Yes, it does. Does it want Truth? No, it does not. You can have arguments from both sides. If it does not want Truth, why is it working so hard? Why does the common man, the average man work and strive all his life? He strives for a certain attainment; so, it is obvious that the Ego wants to reach somewhere. At the same time, in spite of working so hard, the Ego does not do that one thing that it needs to do to really reach. So, you can say, “No, it does not want the Truth”. This inner contradiction is called Maya - You want it and yet you do not want it. Getting it?
Now, that will explain to you why the language of negation is preferred and necessary. First of all, you have to tell the ego, which is the disciple, what it needs to do away with; because attainment is not really a problem. The pen is right here; that which you want is really close by. So, attainment is not a big problem. The challenge really is about dispelling the false beliefs that you carry. The challenge is about unburdening yourself of the excess baggage. The challenge is to relieve yourself of knowledge. If it's (picks up the pen) here, do I require to know a lot to pick it up? No, I don't. I don't require any special capabilities or knowledge. Then what hinders me from picking it (refers to the pen) up? The false knowledge that I already carry. That's why the language of negation is necessary to hack down the false knowledge. Therefore, real spirituality has to be necessarily negative. It has to demolish beliefs. It does not, it cannot rather, give anything to you because there is nothing that needs to be given to you. The pen (picks up the pen), don't forget, is right here. You don't need to be given the pen.
You need to drop a lot, and that will take you back to the discussion on the first day when we talked of renunciation. Spirituality, that abhors renunciation is just a façade; some kind of self-deception. Renunciation or dropping is at the centre of all spirituality. You look at yourselves; you want to know who you are; to primarily know who you are not. Therefore, the idea is not so much about knowing; the idea is to test what you think you already know. Are you getting it? You think you already know a lot; spirituality is not about adding to that knowledge; it is about rigorously and impartially testing that which you think you already know.
Now, don't you know that you are a man or a woman? “Oh, I know I am”. Don't you know that you have so much experience and knowledge and certainty about a lot of things? We know a lot, don't we? Just as this fellow (pointing towards Himself) knows that he has to go in this direction (pointing in the opposite direction of the position of the pen) to obtain the pen. So, we know a lot. Spirituality is about testing and debunking that knowledge. Now, debunking is optional; debunking will happen only if testing is impartial. You can be your own tester, and keep giving yourselves passing marks or full marks. To test oneself credibly, one requires an inner honesty, no? To admit to oneself that one has been believing wrongly all his life; this requires honesty and courage. That's what spirituality is about and that's the import of this verse, this śloka .
“All your life, son (referring to the disciple)”, Rishi says “You have been busy running after things that you can see or think of. Neither have they given you much so far nor are they likely to deliver you much in the future”. Those things themselves are degradable. They are not going to stand the test of time; then how can they take you beyond time? Those things themselves are dependent on other things; then how can they deliver independence or freedom to you? Those things themselves are conditioned products of processes of Prakŕti ; then how can they relieve you of your conditioning? And those things, by the way, do not hold any intrinsic or absolute value in themselves. The value that those things seem to carry is just the value that you accord to them, and you are changing all the time, right? Now, this (picks up the pen from the table) appears very valuable to me. Does this (refers to the pen) really have any value? How much value does a 2015, 100 Rupee note have today?
Q: No value
AP: Why? It's a 100 Rupee note, right? It should have a value worth hundred Rupees. Why does it have no value? Why does a 2015, 100 Rupee note have no value today? For overseas audiences, India went through a demonetization process sometime in 2016-17 and all currency notes prior to that date (someone from the audience corrects that not all currency notes, rather currency notes above 500); above 500. So, let's say a 500 Rupee note. So, all currency notes beyond the denomination of 500 lost all value. How much value does a pre-2017 note have today?
Q: No value.
AP: Why? It has no value because it never had any value. It has no value because it anyway never had any value, never, never. Even when you were using the note to buy a lot of things, it did not have any value even then. It seemed to have value because you were giving it a certain value. Then a power that rules over you, dictated to you that you will not accord any value to this note anymore, and suddenly all value was gone; the note was powerless. Same is the case with everything.
Today, you might think that this (refers to the pen) has a lot of value; this does not have any value. The value that it seems to have is the value that you assign to it. And your mind can change because your mind is always changing, just as somebody's mind changed that particular day in 2017. The mind is prone to change. Today, you are saying this (refers to the pen) has value, so, it seems to have value and therefore, you run after it. And you are spending your time running after it, returning after it, running after it because you say – “This (referring to the pen) has value”. This does not have value; you are according it value. And you are changing; you are changing, and you are changing in very unpredictable ways. Tomorrow, you will find or rather you will declare that this (referring to the pen) has half the value or no value. Now, what happens to all the life that you have spent running after it? Gone waste, right? Gone waste. And you have attained it; you call yourself a successful person. You spent 20 years running after it and you attained it and you said “This has tremendous value, tremendous value”, and then the mind changes and the value reduces to a quarter. Or it can suddenly have negative value; now you want to run a lot so that you can somehow get rid of it because its value is now negative. Good fun, keep running. All the time, we are entrenched in the belief that – Things carry value on their own. They don't; that's the thing about this world, Jagat , Prakŕti . It appears attractive but there is nothing intrinsically or fundamentally attractive in anything. That's why different people find different things to be attractive. That's why the same person finds different things to be attractive at different points in his life. When there is no intrinsic value in anything; when you are the one who projects or superimposes value on this and that, then why don't you go into that valuing agency itself? Because that valuing agency is the reservoir of all value, is it not? Are you getting it?
Everything else is just like a blank slate, an empty screen. You are the one who keeps projecting this and that, valuable and valueless, high and low, good and bad on that screen. So, if there is anything that is actively doing something, if there is any agency that really carries some value, it is not outside of you, it is inside of you. Tell me, who is bigger - the 500 Rupee note or the executive agency that decides that the value of that piece of paper is worth Rupees 500? Who is bigger? That agency is bigger, right? Otherwise, that 500 Rupee note is just a piece of paper. So, who is valuable? That piece of paper or that agency? Agency. That's what the Rishi is trying to teach. The world is just a piece of paper; you are the agency that declares that this piece of paper is worth Rupees 10, and that piece of paper is worth Rupees 100, and that piece of paper is worth Rupees 2000. Fundamentally, a piece of paper is just a piece of paper, worth nothing at all. Which means all that is around you is just molecules and molecules and molecules, worth nothing at all. You look at molecules and say “You know what? I can sell myself to obtain this bundle of molecules”. Ultimately, it is just molecules and those molecules are being assigned a lot of value by you. That piece of paper is being taken as Rupees 2000 by you.
Who is valuable? “I am”. So, if I have to go into something, if I have to know something, if I have to really show interest in something, should it be the note or the agency? I am the agency. I'll show interest in? (Asking the audience) I'll show interest in? Come on! 'Myself'. I'll show interest in 'myself'. All value that the universe seems to carry is actually coming from 'me'. So, I'll, first of all, investigate into 'me'. Who am I? That's what spirituality does. Who am I? I want to know the treasure within, I want to know the agency within that is so full of value that it is able to accord value to every little thing in the universe. What is that thing here? What is that Source of light here that brightens up the entire universe? Otherwise, the universe is neither bright nor dark; the universe is really nothing at all. There is something within me that is projecting light upon this and that. I am throwing light upon this; I am throwing light on this-this-this.
See, you carry a torch in your hand; now, this is a torch (referring to the pen). What is this? This is a pencil torch. So, you're throwing light on something, on the floor. Obviously, what is it that appears illuminated? The floor. So, you get attracted to the floor. So, you think, “Wow”, as if the light is there (points towards the area of the floor which is illuminated by torchlight). The light is not there, the light is here (pointing at the torch), the light is here (pointing to his eyes). But we are looking (looking at the surrounding) - “Ah, things are beautiful!” Things are not beautiful; it's your eyes that are projecting beauty upon this and that. So, instead of going into the things, go into the eyes. And those who have gone into their eyes, have really come to Something that is immensely Beautiful.