Why do thoughts keep changing?

Question: Sir, why do thoughts keep changing?

Acharya Prashant: Asif, we will conduct a small experiment right now. Just look at the world around you, can you see anything that does not change? Can you name anything that is stable, even for the slightest period of time? Is there anything around that has any constancy?

The world by definition means change.

And that is why time exists.

You know what is time? Time is just the rate of change, as measured by the mind. The clock is always ticking, right? So, things are always changing. Sometimes things appear to be constant, but nothing is ever constant. The world is continuously in a flow. You can say that the world is like a river. If you look at a river from a distance, let’s say, if you look at a river from a flying aircraft, the river will appear like a constant line, a contour on the land. But when you get closer and investigate, you find that the river is constantly flowing, it is not the same even after a fraction of second.

The famous Greek philosopher Heraclitus, he had said that “You can never step in the same river twice”. You step into the river, and when you step again, the river has already changed. It is never the same river. You can never step into the same river twice. The world is like a river, always changing, always changing. And it is only because we are not attentive enough that we think that something is constant; or worse, still work and pray for things to be stable and constant.

Nothing can be constant; nothing can be stable.

Now, what is the mind? You asked, “Why do thoughts keep changing always?”

What is the mind?

The mind is that in which everything arises and falls because of the influence of the world.

Do you have any thought that does not arise because of the world? Can you think of anything that is not been given to you by the world? All thoughts are influences of the world. You said that at one point in time you thought of becoming a policeman, and at another time you wanted to be a researcher, then an engineer, then a business man. Would you have wanted to become a policeman, had you never seen a policeman?

But when you are a child, and you watch a movie, and in the movie there is that fantastic cop who is chasing all the robbers and criminals and bashing them up. And what do you want to become then? A police inspector. This thought is arising due to the influence of the world, and what is the world? A river that is constantly changing.

Now next moment, the policeman is gone in the river. The policeman is gone, the river has flown. And what do we have now? An engineer comes along. So your neighbor’s son, who was five years elder to you, did his B.Tech degree and got a job in a prestigious IT firm, and he was also deputed to a European country and everybody felt so proud. It was the talk of the town. And upon seeing that, you take that as an example and you say that “No, no, no, policemen are lousy, I want to become an engineer”.

Would you want to become an engineer, had engineers not been known to earn well and be respectable?

Would so many engineering colleges proliferate?

Had India not gone through an IT revolution?

Just 25 years back, we didn’t even have 10% the number of colleges that we have now. Today everybody wants to go into the information technology field. Just 25 years back, it was a rarity. So from where did the thought of becoming an engineer come? It came from the world, and the world is a?

L: River.

AP: River. Now in the river, the policeman went, then the engineer went and now who has come? The businessman. And now you want to become the businessman. And rest assured, something else is coming after the businessman and something else after that and something else after that. Your thoughts are not at all your own; your thoughts arise from the influence of the world, and the world is so changeable. It is a flux. Nothing stable or constant about it.

So, we are in a very tricky situation. We do not even know what we are going to want next, because we do not know what is going to come flowing in the river next. Anything may come as an influence upon us and we will start thinking about it. We don’t even know it is quite a helpless situation.

Tomorrow something else may dominate the world economy, and we will feel like getting into that field. And because we are not attentive enough, we will think that these are my thoughts and my desires. These are not your thoughts at all Asif (referring to the questioner). These are thoughts given to you by the world. We hardly have anything within us that is really ours.

Things happen in our surroundings, things happen in our environment and we get influenced by them. We internalize the influences upon us and we think that these are our original thoughts, that these are our internal desires and that we must chase these desires. No thought is original and no desire is internal. They are all, I repeat, influences upon the mind coming from the world.

So what does the intelligent man do? How does he live? The intelligent man is the one, who has an identity independent of the world. The intelligent man is the one, who is not helplessly subject to the randomness of the flow, to the vicissitudes of the flow. The intelligent man is someone who has something which remains untouched by the flow. So the intelligent man is someone who has the capacity to maintain a centre—a core that is not influenced by the world.

But all thoughts arise from the world. It is a tricky situation. All thoughts arise from the influence of the world, at the same time we are saying that the intelligent man is someone who has something, which is not touched by the world. Now surely, these cannot be the thoughts because all thoughts arise from the world. So surely the intelligent man then has something which is beyond thought. What does he have? What is it which is beyond thought and hence untouched by the flow of the world? What is it that is beyond thought, and hence does not keep changing from time to time?

Thoughts will change from time to time, but the power to realize cannot change.

That is called your capacity to understand. That is not the part of the flow because it can understand the flow. But you can understand the flow only if you stand a little separate from the flow.

It is like standing on the banks of a river, by the sides of a river. And the river is flowing in front of you, and you are watching the river flow. And you can see, water is coming and water is going. But you are not going away along with the water. What are you doing? You are just standing still and watching and knowing that this is the nature of the world, of the mind and of thoughts—coming and going, rising and falling. And you are standing; you are standing close to the river, yet untouched by it. That is called realization. Seeing that, “Oh! This is this way”; seeing, it is this way.

Does that mean that I have nothing to do with the river? No.

I have lots to do with the river because as a human being, as a physical entity, as a body, I exist in the world. So it is not that I have boycotted the river, it is not that I have taken a pledge not to touch the river, it is not that I am renunciating or saying that “No, no, the world is an untouchable thing. I have nothing to do with the world”. I have lots to do with the world, but in a very special way. What is that special way?

realizationA teacher was on his death bed, he was dying. So his student asked him, “Sir, can you please give us one last advice”. He said, “I will expire and then you will return to your homes, and while returning to your homes, there is this river in between, and you will cross that river”. The student said that “Yes sir, that’s true. When we will go back, we will cross the river”. The teacher said, “Cross the river, but don’t wet your feet”.

Cross the river but don’t wet your foot. That is how the intelligent man lives. He does live in the flow as well, but he does not allow the flow to corrupt him, to change something in him. He does not allow the flow to wet him. So even when he is in the river, he is not wet. That’s quite special, isn’t it? To be in it yet not of it.

Akbar Allahabadi captured it beautifully in his verse when he said: 

Duniya mein rehta hun duniya ka talabgar nahi hun

Bazar se guzra hun kharidar nahi hun

(I live in the world, but I do not desire the world. I roam around in the market, but I am not the buyer of the market)

So alright, I live in the world, I live in the markets but that does not mean that the markets will be able to tempt me. That does not mean that the world will be able to rule me.

But remember, whenever you will go by your thoughts, the world will rule you. To work according to a thinking or an ideology is to become a slave of the world because all thoughts arise from the world.

AP: So the one who wants to live freely in the world, the one who wants to play in the river, without being consumed by the river, must ensure that he is not living his life based on thoughts.

There are two ways to live:

  1. Live as per your thinking.
  2. Live in realization.

The intelligent man lives in realization, and realization and thinking are very-very different things, very different.

Thinking comes from the past, thinking comes from the world.

Realization comes from deep attention to the present.

There is no commonality between them, the man who is thinking will never be able to realize. The man whose mind is crowded by the world and his neighbor and his surroundings will never be able to understand the reality, never understand. He would just be foolishly ruled by the world, and he will suffer and he will not even realize why he is suffering. And we see a lot of suffering around us, don’t we? Is there anybody that you see who is not tensed or ambitious or insecure or afraid or dull or bored?

Look at the people around you, look at the common man on the road and this is all that you will see – suspicion, doubt, fear, insecurity, division.  And he does not even know why he is suffering so much. He is suffering because he is living a life based on thoughts.

Whosoever will live on thoughts, will suffer, that is the punishment. And if you are suffering, it is a sure shot proof that you are not realizing. Realization is the end of suffering. Realization is the end of confusion. And thoughts will always perpetuate confusion. And thoughts will never come to an end on its own.

So there is the police man, then there is an engineer, then there is the business man and then there is something else. So the life will come to an end but the stream will keep flowing.

‘Maaya mari na man mara, mar mar gaya sharir’.

(Neither the illusion dies nor does the mind, the body dies)

You will die; the thoughts will not die. The body will come to an end but the world will go on. The stream will keep flowing.

Are you getting it?

So, what to do? Well! Not much, not much to do really.

Pay attention, see what is happening.

And when you see what is happening, you become free from the happening.

And that will allow independent action to take place. That will allow really free movement in life. And that is joy. That is when you really come alive. That is the ecstasy of living,, flying in open sky.

Next time whenever you feel like going this way or that way.
Just ask yourself, “Is it not another thought given to me by the world?”
And if the answer is ‘yes’. Then you have realized something.


~ Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity.

Watch the session: Acharya Prashant: Why do thoughts keep changing?

Read more articles on this topic:

Article 1: Positive thoughts and negative thoughts are one; live in understanding

Article 2: How to get rid of negative thoughts?

Article 3: What is positive thinking?

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