Question: In the western philosophy, I have heard about ‘Nihilism’, which says, “Whatsoever is there right away, will always be there.” So, if I have to frame it in a way, I would say, “This is it. It will always be like this.” And that is also why philosophers in the west have committed suicide, saying that there is no worth in life.
I have also heard you say, “This is it.” So I would like to know how this is different from what they have said because your words are more life affirming.
Acharya Prashant: Affirmation of the True and negation of the false are not two separate things. In fact, one cannot happen without the other. How can someone talk of something being empty of substance, empty of meaning, just an illusion, without first having a pre-intuitive, experience-less understanding of the Truth?
If only false exists, and you are asserting that only the false exists, then ‘who’ is asserting that the false is there? Are we saying that the false is interested in declaring itself to be false?
Yes, it is a sign of your discernment that you come up and say that something is not real, that something is simply dualistic, having no independent existence of its own. Or you may talk of ‘impermanence’, like the Buddha did.
But can you talk of impermanence while being seated in impermanence? Will the dream declare itself to be a ‘dream’? Will lack of awareness show itself up, in its true colours, on its own? So, on one hand, it is obvious that what we call as ‘existence’ is meaningless, on the other hand, there is a point equally meaningless, yet not meaningless in the sense of being devoid of meaning, but meaningless in the sense of being beyond meaning.
You know, if I am an intellectual, I use my eyes and I look at this vast world, and I say, “Here is this world.” Of course, with my eyes, I can only see the natural world, of materials. Materials – whether natural or man-made. So I look at these things, and then I say, “What is their worth? They are there today, and tomorrow they will not be there. What is their worth? Whatever is happening here is repetitive, conditioned.” And then I say, “There is nothing left for me because there is this great infinity, the expanse of material, the expanse of space, outside me, and it all offers me nothing.”
Then you go one step ahead. You look into your mind, and there is another expanse here. Just like the expanse that you see when you open your eyes, there is another expanse of ideas, thoughts, and your entire mental world. And here too, you do not find much consolation. Thoughts are conditioned, identities are borrowed. What one perceives in one state of consciousness, disappears in another state. Memory drives the mind.
And having come to see this, it is obvious that one will become a little disillusioned. One becomes disillusioned precisely because one perceives it to be ‘big’ and ‘everything’. Just as an almost unfathomable, infinite stretch appears before your eyes when you wake up, similarly, an unfathomable depth of mind is there, when you look at the mind. Is that not so? Is there any limit to thinking?
So mind is infinite. Thoughts and ideas, they are again huge, big, never-ending; like space. That is precisely the reason that the philosopher gets disappointed. You talked of suicides. The philosopher says, “No hope for me in this concrete world; and no hope for me in this abstract world either. And these are big worlds. One says that these are big worlds, the biggest possible. “If there is no hope for me here, where can I hide? Where is my refuge?” There is an infinity beyond infinities. The infinities that we take to be large, are large, yet defined by mind.
Listener 1: Hence they are limited.
AP: Hence they are limited.
You know, you close your eyes, and where is the infinity that you were looking at when the eyes were open? You go to sleep, what happened to all the grand ideas? Gone! The infinity is gone! And that is the source of such great disappointment. “Nothing means anything, even the most beautiful conception that I can have, is memory dependent. The best of relationships that I can have, are time, space and situation dependent.” It really shreds your heart.
The thinking man, the intellectual, is unable to take this load. It is like permanent impotence and worthlessness, being stamped on your face. And it happens only with the man who thinks, who ponders, dwells; to the unthinking man, it doesn’t happen.
Refuse to call that as ‘infinite’ which is dependent on something finite. Refuse. These are pseudo infinities; these are fake immensities. There is nothing immense about them at all.
Stop giving them importance.
Beyond what the senses tell you, and beyond what brews in the mind, there is an immensity, and I affirm that. You may call it ‘life-affirmation’, or whatever name that you want to give it. But what is obvious is: to see that something is limited, I must surely and firstly be touched by the unlimited. No system ever declares itself to be a system. No machine ever declares itself to be conditioned.
When one loses all hope in the little, that is the point when he has been totally possessed by the Grand.
Are you getting it?
L1: Sir, here I would like to ask a question again. If you have lost all hopes of the world, and that I probably think is the time, that this concept of ‘nihilism’ comes. You are not left with no hope. And that is why now you are saying, “When nothing is there, why should ‘I’ exist? Why should ‘I’ continue?” How does one move to the other plane?
AP: You know, that is what. How can you lose all hope in the world, and yet talk so seriously about the ‘I’? Talking seriously about the ‘I’ only demonstrates that you are still tied to the world. Because what you call as ‘I’, is simply a manifestation of the world.
The world seen differently, the world seen imperfectly, becomes the ‘I’. The ‘I’, the ego has no existence separate from the world. This happens with many people, that on one hand we say, “I have seen the falseness of the world. I have seen that it is all so worthless, meaningless, substance-less.” And then we say, “Having seen this, ‘I’ am suffering.”
Now this is very strange. Having seen the worthlessness of the world, how can you continue to suffer? Won’t you see the worthlessness of your suffering as well? Won’t you? So, the seeing has been imperfect. The fact is, secretly, one still has a lot of hope from the world. Secretly, desires are still finding nourishment in our tendencies. And what is really happening is that, because I see that what I desire will not be obtainable, so I act, as if the world means nothing to me. The same world will start meaning a lot to you, if it becomes pleasant. The same world will become heavenly, if today it starts delivering you satisfaction, and happiness, and all kinds of gratifications. All this talk of ‘nihilism’ will totally evaporate. You will say, “This world itself is heaven, what nihilism?”
How can one commit suicide? Even to commit suicide, you have to take the body very seriously. Do you go around killing things that you have nothing to do with? Do you?
L1: So this brings us to this that the whole concept of ‘nihilism’ is actually an illusion.
AP: No, it goes to some distance, but misses the Centre. It misses the Centre, and that is as good as having gone nowhere at all. Except the Centre, everything is anyway false.
See, understand this. Just because one is a loser in the world, one is not qualified to declare himself a ‘dropout’. These are two very different things. There are so many people who desperately want to win. They want to reap the benefits of this system. They look at the system, and see an opportunity for themselves. They really don’t have anything against the system. They really don’t have anything for or against anything. They are only for their gratification, and against their dissolution. That is their position, standing.
Now, I desperately want to win, yet I am a loser – for lack of skill, for lack of competence, for lack of effort. Or simply because the random situations don’t favour me. Sometimes the random situations need to be very propitious. They are the biggest factor. So, for some reason, I am not winning, so what do I declare myself? “I am not interested in winning, I am a dropout. Look at me, I have nothing from this system. Look at me, my hands are empty. Look at me.”
L2: It’s more like, I have an exam tomorrow, and a day before I declare, “I am dropping out.”
AP: Or you may declare, “I am not going to write any exams today onwards.” It is not because you have seen the falseness of exams, it is just that situations have brought you to the point where you have started believing that you will not succeed in exams.
You know there is a great difference between a man who has really-really let go, who is no more a part of the social, or economic, or political man-made orders, who is not even greatly influenced by the nature-made biological order. And hence he has really nothing that the world can give him. He is contended with the Self. There is this man.
And then there is another man who is equally poor, in terms of possessions. But who strives from morning till evening. Desires and ambitions are still burning in his heart. When the right moment comes, he will gather ‘the goodies’ with both hands. You cannot compare these two men.
We often make this mistake. Just because a man has not been able to obtain anything from the world, we often think that there is something special about him. No. The fact is, you are eager to obtain. And the day situations will turn favourable, you will collect all the rewards that the world has to offer. You will not abstain.
Yes, today, compared to the man who is consuming all the benefits of the world, and all the pleasantries, you may look forlorn, you may look empty-handed. But that’s not what you want. And such a man will need to justify his life situation to himself. And he may tell himself, “The world is immaterial, the world lacks meaning, the world is not true, and hence the truthful suffer in it.” He can entertain himself with such consolations, “These are worthless things.”
I will come back to the point where we started. Rejection of the false, and living in the True, are not at all separate happenings. They happen absolutely together. It is just that when you look at it from the side of the false, you see rejection; when you look at it from the side of the Truth, you see positive affirmation and acceptance. They are not separate at all.
Neither are they separate really nor are they separate even in time. And if they are separate, then it means that both are missing. Not that one is missing. If they are separate, and somebody says, “One is happening, the other is not.” It means that neither is happening. Getting it?
So if you come across somebody who says, “I have dropped everything, abandoned everything. I am detached from everything, yet I cannot get peace, yet God alludes me,” then for certain this man has not dropped much.
Had he really dropped everything, then with everything, he would also have dropped the hope of Peace or Truth or God. The world’s religious and spiritual literature is full of such examples. Somebody goes out to the hills, to the forests, and his claim is, “I have come here leaving everything behind.” Really? Had you really left everything behind, what would you be doing here? For sure, you have not left one thing that you were carrying even the moment when you left your home – what is it? Your goal.
Aren’t you still carrying the same goal that you had, when you left your home? Same goal implies the same mind. And if you are carrying the same mind, then what have you dropped? That is the only thing to be dropped – the mind. What have you dropped?
The day you left home, you had a goal. Now you say you have been dropping everything, yet twenty years later you have that goal. You are the same man, what have you been dropping? A man drops nothing, but himself. What have you dropped?
Real renunciation, when it happens, it does not confirm to your images. It is not as per a particular plan. I am repeating – a ‘person’ does not drop ‘things’. Dropping things is so easy and immaterial. You drop the ‘owner’ of the things.
Understand this difference.
Real renunciation is not about dropping ‘things’. It is about dropping the ‘possessor’ of things. Man has been doing this mistake very often. You drop a ‘thing’, and you preserve yourself.
L3: And that makes you all the more loaded, because now you say, “I have dropped something.”
AP: “I have dropped something, so I am more of myself now. Till yesterday I only used to think that I am a great man. Today in my eyes, it is established that I am a great man. Now this ‘great’ man must get his dues. He must be honoured and rewarded by the world. Where is the honour and the reward? Why does this world not understand that I am the next Buddha?”
“See, what all have I dropped. Respect me. Give me medals, garland me, for I have dropped fame. Come and become my followers, because I have dropped relationships. Give me a grand ashram, because I have dropped my small house. You know, I deserve that return on my investments.”
It is a very cheap kind of renunciation or detachment to say that – the world is empty. What is the world, except ‘yourself’? Do you see that as ‘empty’? No. That, you never see as empty. That, is always meaningful, “My sufferings always mean a lot. My desires are always to be taken seriously.” But the world? I will say, “I am a nihilist. Regarding the world, I am a nihilist. Regarding myself, I am what I am. Oh, the world is nothing; all of these are shadows, Maya. The world is Maya.” And who are you?
L3: Sir, so true nihilism should encompass the ‘I’ as well.
AP: Only the ‘I’. Spare the world. Only the ‘I’. If you have to see the emptiness of anything, look at your own emptiness. Who are ‘you’? One influence, you become somebody else. Another gust of wind, you are blown to some other direction. Next touch by somebody, and you find another colour smeared on your face. Who are ‘you’?
Anybody can come and puncture your balloon. See the emptiness of your own balloon. Hot air, gas. That’s what you are.
That is real nihilism.
~ Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity.
Read more articles on this topic:
Article 3: Every thing is material, but not everything.