The real meaning of ‘God helps those who help themselves’

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Question: ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ Is there something that I can do? Do I have any responsibility towards helping myself? Is not the act of helping myself against surrender?

Acharya Prashant: A few things need to be clear in this regard. It says, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ What is coming first here, your attempt to help yourself or the help of God?

Listener: Your attempt to help yourself?

AP: That is the misconception! It is usually construed that when we will help ourselves then God will come to help us. We have then put the action of God in a cause-effect limit. Effectively, we have built a handle upon God. We have said, “I know how to switch-on the act of God. I know how to make ‘Him’ help me.” How to switch Him on? “Start helping yourself, and then He will come to help you.”

Now that makes it very easy; it is programmed and mechanical.

This is exactly how the ego operates. It thinks, it seriously thinks, that it can have a handle upon God as well. It seriously thinks that the beyond will operate as per its wishes. “I will help myself and thereby I will make Him help me.” Now read this whole thing again.

‘God helps those who help themselves.’ Can it be read in a different light? The whole game of wisdom statements, spiritual statements is that, you are required to read them right, otherwise, everything gets inverted. Not only misplaced, or displaced, or removed a little, but it takes a meaning that is totally opposite of the intended meaning. That is what we have done to all the wisdom sayings and holy scriptures throughout the centuries: we have read them via the ego. We do not know any other means of operating. After all, we cannot suddenly be a changed mind!

When I go to a holy book, after all I am the same man who went to the market, who went to the office, who went to the brothel. Or am I a different one? My underlying tendencies are the same, and I am carrying them everywhere, and with those same tendencies, I approach the holy book as well. I may pretend to be clean. I may say, “No, this is a very important moment and a very auspicious occasion, and I must read this book with full attention.” But in spite of all my claims and intentions, I am the same.

Man has put his dirty hands upon all the holy sayings, upon all the scriptures and all the words of wisdom. This is a perfect example: ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ It truly means that all your attempts to help yourself are powered by God. First comes God’s help and only then you can help yourself; because it is only through God’s help that you can know the real meaning of helping.

Now understand this very carefully: there would be then two types of help. The first type is: when you are helping yourself first without accounting for God’s help, without caring for God’s help, without surrendering to God’s help, without even knowing the meaning of help. And that is what the entire world is doing.

We all have good intentions, at least toward ourselves, right? No one deliberately wants to harm himself. We do want to help ourselves. But the more we want to help ourselves, the more we move towards devastation and destruction. It is because our help originates from ‘us,’ and not from God. Not only does it originate from us, we are arrogant enough to claim that when we will try to help ourselves, God will be moved in a way mandated to help me.

As if I have cleared a qualification exam, as if I have passed an entry criteria, as if now I can go and stake a claim that now I am eligible for your help. “Why do you not give it to me?” As if God is a service provider. This is the first type of help.

This is how we all try to help ourselves. Like a drunkard tries to help the world, like parents try to help their kids, like husband and wife try to help each other. They only end up devastating and killing each other. Like we move on certain paths thinking that these are good for us and we will be helped; and to our utter dismay, frustration, and surprise, we do not know what has happened.

“I tried the best. I moved on seemingly the best path available to me. There was nothing missing in my intention or efforts, and yet I am suffering.” You are suffering exactly because you tried to help yourself.

Not only did you try to help yourself, you also summoned God. “Now I am trying to help myself, you come and join me. It’s my car that I am pushing. You also push it from behind. It’s your duty. After all some wise man has said that God helps those who help themselves. I am helping myself, you too come now. How can you violate this saying? My interpretation of this saying is bigger than God. So you come.” This is the first kind of help that we give ourselves.

Then there is another kind of help which starts from God and moves you. Here action doesn’t come first, grace comes first. And the mark of ‘His’ grace is that he never tells you what to do. This is one test that you can use. If ever God will speak to you, ‘He’ will never tell you what to do. ‘He’ will only tell you what it is like. ‘He’ will only tell you what is. ‘He’ will never tell you what to do. What to do, ‘He’ always leaves upon you. Go and do what you want to do. I will only tell you what it ‘is,’ because what ‘is’, is God. That is the only thing ‘He’ can ever tell.

If ever you come across somebody who says, “God has commanded me to do this,” he knows nothing. God never commands you to do something, never. In fact, God never commands you. The only way God ever helps you is by showing ‘Himself’ to you; and He does not have a particular shape or appearance. He shows himself to you in the form of understanding. That is why the Upanishads say, ‘Pragyanam Brahm’ (Understanding itself is God).

There is no God except ‘understanding’. Or put it this way that God reveals himself to you in the form of understanding. Now you know; and whosoever knows can never tell what he has known for the simple reason that only God can be known, and God cannot be described. That is the reason why those who know always fail in their attempt to describe, explain, articulate what they have known. They sing, they dance, it radiates from their being in a thousand ways, but still they are never able to express it fully.

Expression is always incomplete. So you want to express it more, and more, and more, and you want to sing more, and more, and more . . . it’s never complete. That is the way God helps you. Now you know and once you know, whatever you do will be in the direction of your help; whatever you do will help you.

His help has come; now you go ahead and do whatever you want to do – everything else is secondary. The biggest help has arrived, the entire caravan loaded with help has arrived. You want to gather a few things here and there, you are free to do that, go ahead.

It is because of ‘His’ help that you can really help yourself.

So when you come to a situation where you are doing whatever you are doing and realizing that you are not the doer of it, and realizing that you cannot take the credit for it, then that is the moment when you also realize that the first mover is somebody else, that the first help came from somewhere else.

You asked, ‘What is my responsibility towards myself? What is it that ‘I’ can do?’ You do whatever you can do remembering that you are not doing it. That is self-help! If you think that you are helping yourself, it becomes the first kind of help. Then instead of helping yourself, only harm will come to you.

Do whatever you want to do, but first understand what the meaning of ‘self’ is, and what the meaning of ‘help’ is, and then proceed, dance, the world is your stage. Is this clear? Understand what ‘self’ is and what ‘help’ is. In understanding this, you will dissolve. In understanding this, you will no more remain the doer of the action of help.

Are you getting this?

Instead of running blindly with the intention to achieve something, with the objective of betterment or progress, pause and ask, “In self-help, what is the ‘self’ and what is it that wants to be helped?” How can ‘That’ be helped?

This pausing itself is God. This pausing won’t happen without the help of God. This pausing is ‘understanding,’ this pausing is ‘freedom’. In this pausing lies unlimited opportunity to act in the appropriate way. In this pausing, and in this freedom, whichever way you choose to act, is the appropriate way.

I am repeating this: God’s help does not arrive to you in the form of an advisory – “Go ahead son and do this.” Never! There is only one way God has to help you. God himself is the way.

What is the way of God to help you? God! God has no other way. If God has a way, understand this, then there has to be a way other than God.

If a car is moving on a way, then ‘the car’ and ‘the way’ have to be separate. How can God have a ‘way’? All of God’s ways are God Himself. So the only way God will ever help you is by revealing ‘Himself’ to you. And when he reveals ‘Himself’ to you, can you be outside of ‘Him’? And if you are outside of God when God has revealed ‘Himself’ to you, is it really God? An incomplete God you mean!

Will you remain yourself when the radiance of God shines in front of you? You are gone! There is nothing outside of God. The only way God helps you is by bringing you into godliness. Now you are God! That is why Pragyanam Brahm (Understanding is God) and Aham Brahmasmi (I am God) are so interrelated.

With understanding, you cannot remain what you are. If you say, “I am still what I used to be, but I understand,” then you are lying.

Understanding is total transformation, and it is not a transformation from ‘A to B’. Understanding is transformation from ‘A to nothingness’. Understanding means, “Only understanding remains. I am no more. I am gone. When I am gone, how can I help myself? Now all that I am doing to help myself, all that seems to be happening to help me, is surely not my action, surely not my action.”

Are you getting this? Let the first be first.

You won’t come first. You cannot say that I will help myself, then God will help me. Let the first be first, ‘He’ will help you. Getting this? That is your responsibility towards yourself. What? To allow yourself to be helped. That is your only responsibility towards yourself. Allow yourself to be helped. Till the time you are too eager to help yourself, God has fun. He says, “Fine you help yourself.”

Till the time you come up with such brilliant interpretation of sayings like these, God has a good time. He says, “Fine! He wants to help himself, let him help himself.”

When you stop helping yourself is the moment you pause. You stopped helping yourself.

All your movement is to help yourself. Just pause for a while. Just pause! The moment you pause, ‘He’ reveals himself . . . and then proceed. Now whatever you are doing to help yourself is the action of God, it is powered by God. It will be fun. “Powered by God, I am helping myself.” Very good fun. Why? Because now you don’t need to help yourself.

Do you still need help? But it will be good fun. “I am trying to do this. I am trying to do that. You know there are important tasks to be done. I need to achieve my goals.” Good fun! The help has already come. The final point has already been reached. The race has been won. If you still want to do a sprint or a jog, then it is okay.

Have you seen those runners who after winning still want to run a little more here and there? It’s not running anymore, it’s dancing – it’s a celebration. Are they running anymore? The race has been won already; the help has arrived already, but because you are a runner, it doesn’t befit you to stop. So keep running. A little more hop, and a leap, and a sprint.

Something has to be done, so keep doing. But really, you require no more help. Really, your own intervention is no more required.

You are already doing the most that you can do to help yourself, but that is the first kind of help. Now pause! Now pause and pray that ‘He’ helps you pause, because even pausing cannot happen with your will. Left to you, you will say, “I will pause when I reach there. Alright let’s pause at the thirty-second milestone. Now, the thirty-second milestone is gone. Fine, the next one, the next one.” You never pause! Have you seen people like these?

“Alright let’s pause when we reach there.” Targets are like dhabas, and tea shops upon highways. You always feel like stopping at the next one.

Stop wherever you are! You are always moving in God. Wherever you are, ‘He’ is.

Stop wherever you are. Just pausing will be required, and you will see. 


-Excerpts from a Clarity Session held at Advait Bodh Sthal. Edited for clarity.

Watch the session at: The real meaning of ‘God helps those who help themselves’

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5 thoughts on “The real meaning of ‘God helps those who help themselves’

  1. Quite an eye opening article it is.
    This is very famous line and widely misunderstood.
    No matter how rich texts am I reading, the moment they go to my ear they are comprehended as per my being.

    Perhaps that’s the reason why in our culture reading scriptures were not recommended without a Guru.

    Like

  2. One statement heavily used and abused with a completely distorted meaning, I can understand that now.

    We end up deriving the meaning that we choose to understand and to the doer mind its ‘capacity to do’ is such a motivation.

    Beautiful article indeed. I am seeing lot of unlearning happening on its own. Feeling light.

    Like

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