Question: Sir, suppose I go through an incident and I take it into my stride, and I learn something from it. So then that learning becomes my experience. But, in one of your discourses you have said that the only thing that keeps us from forgetting our past is trying to forget the past. So, how does one do both the things simultaneously that is let go of the past and gain experience from it?
Acharya Prashant: We’ll have to address the issues of ‘experience’ and ‘learning,’ and see how and whether they are related to each other. Normally, what do you think learning is?
Listener: Sir, anything fruitful that we can extract from any occurrence.
AP: So what do you mean by extracting something from an occurrence?
L1: To be able to know the dos and don’ts in advance in case a similar situation happens to us in the future.
AP: So you mean committing it to memory?
L1: Yes, Sir.
AP: So you have related memorization to learning. Is that not so?
L1: Yes, Sir.
AP: Learning is the ability to respond afresh to something, to respond free of experience. Pay attention to this. Normally, the mind is clouded with all kinds of experiences, memories, thoughts, a sense of the self, all these together create a world, and the ego sits at the centre of that world. It is from this kind of a mind that we respond to the happenings around us.
Learning means the clearing away of this world. When you say that you are learning something, it must not mean that you are covering yourself with more layers of experience. Learning means that you are able to uncover your innate ability to know and respond. That is learning. Now this goes against what we usually call as learning, our usual sense of the word. When we say learning, we mean gaining something, some data, information, knowledge, a method of responding.
Contrast it again. Learning means, “I went through a particular experience and in the light of attention, by the grace of Truth, I was able to see the various kinds of falsenesses contained in the whole process of experiencing. I was able to see how what appears is just a game that the mind of the subject plays, and I was able to see how my own reactions are another game that the mind of the subject plays.”
So, experience cannot reveal to you anything new. The very idea that one gains from experience rests on the assumption that one is intrinsically poor and experience will supply to him that which he is deficient in. Experience cannot teach you anything.
If you are not careful, experience will form a layer over your psyche. And what else is psyche? Layer upon layer of experience. But if you are careful – in the sense of being attentive – then the same experience will just reveal to you its own hollowness – that is the proper place of experience and attention in living. You would be undergoing some experience all the time. So you are talking to me, this is an experience; you came here, and that is an experience; you might have spoken to a few people around here, that was another experience. These experiences are not meant to provide or supply anything fundamental to you. But if you are going through these experiences wakefully, watchfully, attentively, then you will be able to see how each experience has the power to cloud your intellect – that is learning.
You do not learn from experience, you learn about the experience.
And what do you learn about the experience? That it really means nothing: “It means nothing really, but it appears to mean a lot.” And therein lies its hollowness, and its deception. Being nothing, it promises so much. Being hollow, it appears so substantial. That is how the sharp eye looks at experience.
I am repeating: this whole assumption, the paradigm that experience makes one richer, is inherently false. Experience does not bring any richness to your life. Richness of life is given to you by something very innate to you. Something that is your life-blood, it is already there with you. But when you are taught that experience will make you a bigger, a better man, that it will bring fulfilment to your life, then what do you do? Then you do that which this entire world around us is doing.
If you see, what is the common man doing? What is the entire life story of the common man? You will see that he is running after experience. He wants one experience after the other, and behind this ‘want’ is the premise that one experience, or a set of experiences, will be able to close that yawning gap in his heart. Is that not so?
L1: Yes, Sir.
AP: What are we doing, moment after moment, day after day, year after year? Gathering experiences and running after them, right? “Let me see how it feels to travel in that foreign country. Let me see how it feels to have dinner in that exquisite restaurant. Let me experience what it means to be physically close to that man or woman. Let me touch, let me smell, let me eat, let me travel, let me reach.”
One job after the other, one relationship after the other, one house after the other. What is the common man doing all the time? He is just gathering experiences, assuming that ultimately some experience will be the final one. But the very foundation of this running around is false. You can run all your life and gather as many experiences as you want and for as long as you want, yet, if the mind is resting upon a flawed foundation, it will never gain peace.
Are you getting it?
L1: Yes, Sir.
AP: So, am I saying that one should avoid experiences? Am I saying that one should enclose himself in some kind of a silo and insulate himself from the world? No, I am not saying that. Experiences are anyway happening all the time. A while back, we said that since you have come here, you are having experiences. This discussion is an experience. Having tea with our friend here would have been an experience. Reaching up to this place would have been an experience. Life, every moment, anyway is an experience. And there is the experiencer.
The wise man does not expect too much from experiences. The wise man does not make experience the source of his learning. He knows that learning rests within. Experience has no positive role in enhancing learning. If anything, experience can obfuscate learning.
Pay attention to this because it runs contrary to conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom says that experience can enhance learning. I am saying that experience cannot enhance learning, experience can only obfuscate learning. It can cover it.
The reality, the Truth of things, of Being, is very simple and direct, and within. One does not need an external agency to provide it to you. But what you call as ‘external’ surely has the power, in all its complexity, to not to give you something, but to take away that which is already with you.
Totally give up this notion that those who are more experienced have advanced in any way in terms of intelligence.
Look at the people who have known much, are knowledgeable, experienced, of advanced age. Do you really see innocence and simplicity shining on their faces? Or do you see them rather bogged down under the weight of experience?
You look at most people who have crossed a particular age – forty, or sixty, or eighty – you look at their faces. Have they become more open to life, have they made themselves more vulnerable to life? When they look at the simple things around, do their eyes lit up with a wondrous question, an excitement, like a child when he sees an ordinary insect, like a moth or a kite? Do you see that happening with experienced people? Do you see that on their faces, in their eyes? Or do you see a dullness, a heaviness? Now with that dullness and heaviness, where is learning? Where is learning? How can you learn about anything if your experience is too much upon you?
Are you getting it?
Do not bother about experience. I am repeating: live simply and allow experiences to come to you. They are anyway coming to you. You hold no obligation or responsibility to run after experiences. Just don’t block them and that is sufficient. And the experienced man, it is quiet amusing, blocks experiences. Because that is what experiences teach him: all kinds of morality, all kinds of precaution. Now he knows what to experience and what not to experience. It is quite paradoxical in that sense that the experienced man is the least open to experiences.
Life is eager to give you more experiences than you can ask for. You do not have to worry about running hither-thither and having experiences. You look at young people, they are worrying all the time.
“Will I get a job of that nature?”
“Will I get a social security of that kind?”
“What if I do not get a girlfriend and I die single?” Do you see, what is this anxiety?
“What will happen to me?”
“Will I get that particular experience or not?”
Now, why are you so anxious? Is there anything in the entire universe that has to worry about the next day? That has to worry about what existence will bring to it? Nothing worries, and everything gets what it ought to get. Man is the only one who is so worried about whether or not he would attain fulfilment. I am repeating: experience blocks experience; and life showers experience upon you.
Let life flow through you. It will naturally, without your asking, bring to you so many and such diversity of experiences, which you could have never even thought of. You do not need to plan and you do not need to worry. Become one with life, have the faith that whatever will happen, will not destroy you. Remain open, remain prepared to being wounded a little, and then see how you are left breathless with experience. And that experience, which we are talking of, will be fresh.
When people commonly say that they want an experience of a particular kind, do they ever want a fresh experience? You can demand something from life only if you have already heard about it. Have you not?
“My friend has been earning so much money, so I too want that much money.” Now is there anything fresh about your demand for this experience? No, not really. You are seeing this happening all around you, so you too want it. “My cousin has been smoking a particular exotic variety of weed, I too want it.” Now, what is new about your demand? Anything new? “I want to become the president of the world.” It’s a stale wish. “I want to receive the highest honors that man can give to man.” Millions of people have wanted the same. “I want the most beautiful woman on my bed.” Come on, demand something new.
But that’s the kind of ‘experience’ that one can demand, or can you demand any new experience? Can there be any newness in the experience that you demand? Ever? Think of it.
L1: No, Sir.
AP: No! Fortunately, life has no respect for your demands. What life can give to you, is brand new. What life can give to you, is really fresh – so fresh that it knocks you down. You don’t know what to do with what you have been given. At most, you can demand a kitten, or a pup; life can give you a baby serpent on your bed. Now what to do with it? You never wanted it. You wanted a cute kitten. What have you been given? You wake up and what do you find? A baby snake. That’s what life can give you. Now that’s experience – to the extent that one man can think of it, right? You can even have the egg of an extinct dinosaur on your bed – I mean, let imagination run.
But you will never ask for it really. Life can give it to you, without your asking. But life will not give it to you if you are hell-bent upon just pups and kittens. Pups and kittens are so boring. Your brother has them, your mother has them, everybody has them. Are you getting it?
You demand such boring and dull and ordinary things from life, and then you complain that life is not providing them to you. What you don’t realize is that life has something really special in store for you, which is not coming to you because you are not open to it.
Life is knocking on your door with its wondrous gifts and like a sissy baby you are crying and wimping and complaining, “Why am I not being given the same thing that Tina in the neighborhood has been given!” That is all that you know – your comparison with Tina. Life is little bigger than Tina and infinitely more wise. Are you getting it?
Stop this infatuation with experience. You see the advertisement of a new product in the market and you want it. Somebody wants to sell a resort to you and he will say, “Come over and we have some kind of an adventure store. You can have games and parties and pools.” And you become excited. Some new food? “There are so many countries in the world – two hundred odd. Have you tried all the exotic cuisines? With all their exotic names?” And you feel so small and jealous when you come to learn that somebody is having food from Rwanda or Chile. “I am so impoverished. See, all that I have ever had is food from my petty house. And that lucky fellow is having exotic meals from Azerbaijan.”
When life lacks the essential then it tries to compensate for it through exotic experience. When life is brimming with the essential, overflowing with the essential, then the craving for extraordinary experience is no more there. Because the essential itself is the destination of all experience. Why do you demand experience? So that you can ultimately reach that point of supreme peace and fulfilment. And if that supreme peace and fulfilment is anyway available, then what will you do with experience?
And this ordinary availability, this simple abundance of life, to know it, to live in it, is learning. Nothing else is learning. You make your brain a store house of information – that is not called learning. To learn is to learn about the hollowness of experience and the fullness of your self – that is learning. Are you getting it?
That is the only thing that one can ever learn. Nothing else is there to be learnt. You go to some alien location and you memorize all the people that you met and all the places that you went to and all the food that you ate, and all the other pieces of data that can be had and you come back with it. You have no right to say that you have learnt anything. Yes, you have gained in knowledge. But knowledge itself is so poor, it never gains completion. Have you ever seen anybody gaining complete knowledge? Knowledge itself is condemned to remain incomplete and what is condemned to remain incomplete, how can it give completion to you? You are demanding health from sickness? You are demanding fulfilment from knowledge, which itself never becomes fulfilled?
So be very clear about what learning really is. Learning does not mean the acquisition of anything external. Learning means to see that whatever is external is just so hollow, just so needless. One learns about the only Truth that there is, and that is the Self. That is the only thing worth learning. That is the only substance that can be learnt about. All else is false.
L2: Sir, correct me when I go wrong: by understanding what is learning, we get to know that experiences are basically hollow, that they will come and go, and that one does not have to go chasing after them.
AP: In the moment of experience, if you can remain untempted by experience, that is learning.
Remember you are not being hostile towards experience; you are not even being indifferent towards experience. It’s just that you are not placing an unreasonable demand upon experience. You see, what do we do? Understand this. We all want a certain contentment, call it peace, call it joy, or call it love. Because we have lost the understanding of where this real substance could actually be found, we try to find it in the wrong places.
We are trying to get from experience what experience can never give you. For example, immortality. Nobody wants to die. One’s nature is to be, and not be extinct. Be. Be present. But the nature of the world is to come and go. Since we do not know where really to find immortality, we try to find immortality in material. We somehow try to find immortality in the body, in relationships, in mental security, in concepts about rebirth. Are you getting it?
So experience is alright. I repeat that we are not trying to look down upon experience. We are just saying that we should not expect that from experience which experience can anyway not provide. With all the effort that you can put behind experience, experience will never give you wisdom. Similarly, we know that all experience is material, is sensual. Similarly, you can go through the process of physical intimacy a million times, yet it will not give you love.
Now to expect experience to give you that which is beyond experience, is foolishness. So go through experience but let experience stay in its place. You should know that the essential will not be provided by experience. And remaining in this understanding is learning, is wisdom. So we are saying: let life bring all kinds of experiences to us and we will happily and willingly go through them. We will not obstruct them. We will welcome them, but we will not think that these experiences are in any way, a substitute, a complement or a proxy to the essential.
Experience in no way can touch the essential. Experience whatever life has to give you but stay with the essential. Do not confuse these two. Experience is experience and essential is essential.
~ Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity.
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