Question: I want to know why the world is at the moment so harsh?
Acharya Prashant: There is nothing that one group, one community or one person experiences that the other has never experienced or is not experiencing even to the slightest degree. Fundamentally we are all one. As human beings, we all perceive the world through our senses, we all operate through language, we all think and our basic tendencies are all the same.
The same urge to have security, the same urge to find love, the same repulsion from the feeling of termination, of disappearance, the same attachments and the same kinds of identifications. We’re all very much one and the oneness becomes more and more apparent as we go deeper into our psyche — the mind. As we go deeper into the mind, the similarities become very apparent.
You see you take one mother here in Netherlands and you take another mother somewhere in Africa, if you just superficially look at them, you will only see differences. You will see differences in name, you will see differences in physique, you will see differences in diet; you will see a lot of differences. Then you look at their relationship with their kids, here again superficially you will only see differences. The rituals will be different; the way they bring up their kids might appear initially different but the deeper you probe into the relationship you will find that more and more similarities are emerging. If it’s the mother and the kid, then the mother wishes the kid well. The mother has a certain attachment for the kid. The mother also feels insecure about the kid. The more you keep the names and the forms behind you will come to feel as if these two mothers are just the same. The same for the kids as well, ditto.
So when we say, ‘Why is the world harsh or violent or why is the world in conflict’, we’re essentially talking of ourselves because the world means an aggregation of people and their relationships, a totality of people and the way people relate to each other. If we can understand why one man or one woman is in conflict, we will be able to understand why the entire world is in conflict.
Do we understand this?
One person is a microcosm. One person is a miniature representation of the entire world. Are we getting this? In different ways, obviously! I do not represent the world in the same way as he does or as she does. There are differences but the basic tendencies are same within everyone. So why is one person in conflict, why is one man divided, why are we not at peace with ourselves?
If we can understand why we are not at peace with ourselves, we can also understand why we are not at peace with our neighbour and then with the neighbouring state and then with the neighbouring country and then with the entire universe. Why are we not at peace with anything?
Why are we not at peace with ourselves firstly?
Why are we not happy as ourselves, why are we not settled within ourselves, why are we not just contended? I repeat, if we can know why one man is not at home with himself, why he is not at peace with himself, we’ll also know why nations fight, we’ll also know why religions fight. We have to start at the unit level, the individual level.
Why is one man not able to be comfortable with himself? Why is he cursing himself or backing himself or expecting things from himself or asking questions to himself? Why do we all have issues with ourselves? Why does no one like himself perfectly?
L3: I always thought this was the testosterone in men mostly creating all the problems.
L4: So, women have no problems! They’re perfect!
L5: We’re blind to the beauty of the world. When we’re open to the beauty of the world and thankful, I think then it’s a start.
AP: We’re starting off by asking that before we can see the beauty outside out there, why am I unable to see the beauty in here? That is the first question I think we must tackle. Why is the beauty within not so apparent?
And we’ve obtained a valuable lead; you talked of the Ego, you talked of upbringing, you talked of attachments. Are they not all whole, One? Are we not referring to the same thing, the same creature? What is the Ego?
L6: The sum-total of it all (upbringing and attachments).
AP: The sense of self, the sense of who I am.
L2: The construction.
AP: The construction, yeah. A constructed self of who I AM. Ego means I. Ego means who I am, right?
Given the way human beings are, we would always be raised somewhere; given the way the mind of a child is, he would be absorbing stuff — what he or she sees around, the television, the movies, the family, the school, the streets, the market place, the child would be absorbing influences. The mind of the child, rather, the brain itself is not yet in a position to exercise discretion. The child sees and the child imitates, not learns just imitates, copies, absorbs.
So, upbringing as a fact would remain and that would mean that any child, any human being would always have a past behind her, a past in which he or she has been brought up and thereby conditioned, thereby influenced. So the person has been given a religion, the person has been given a feeling about nationality; the person has been made to think that this is the community that he or she belongs to. You see this? The person has been made to take pride in the glory of his ancestors and the person has been cultivated with ideas about what future must look like. Do you see all this?
So it will necessarily be there, it’s there for all of us. Every single individual has been through it. Now what to do? Does that mean that conflict is inevitable, that conflict is something that we cannot avoid, and we have to live with it? What are we saying then?
L3: I am sure we could avoid conflict, well, I am not in it, of course, it’s not as easy as to speak probably, but I am convinced that we could avoid it, we could start realising what we are doing and that there is another choice.
L4: For sure that it’s inevitable, for instance the war with Syria, it’s difficult, there is a long way to go. It’s so sad because you would like to help but you can’t do it alone.
AP: So, the individual, the one person is being acted upon by different forces, parts of the mind are being dominated by different influences. There is the influence of the church, there is the influence of the temple, there is the influence of the media, then there are political leaders, then there are small things like friends in school, and the comic strips, right? But all of them go towards filling the consciousness, don’t they?
Now, none of these influences is total. None of them has any wholeness about them. All of them are limited, all of them are partisan. Do you see this? All of them are very parochial, tiny little fragments, right? So they occupy only one portion of the mind. They sit upon one portion of the mind and the other fragment sits upon another portion, and the other portion and the other portion and none of them has any wholeness. What will happen to the mind the different parts of which have been occupied by, dominated by different influences? What’s going to happen to such a mind?
L1: The mind is confused, I think
AP: The mind is confused and what is this confusion going to result in? And what is this confusion rather all about?
You see, for example, there are several influences on the mind that teach us self-interest, right? Self-preservation? And then there is the morality that is taught in school and sometimes in the church that tells us that one has to be good and fair and magnanimous towards the neighbours. Now are these two the same thing, preserving your own self and being good to the neighbour as well?
L2: Not always.
AP: Not always. It will very often be in conflict with each other. So the mind is torn. Whatever will come from outside will never have a totality about it for the simple reason that it is coming from outside, it is not you. It can appeal to one part of you but it can never be you in totality.
So the human being is now divided. There is confusion, there is inner strife. One does not know which way to go. One decides to go this way, another influence comes, shows up and one is led that way. At one point in time, this appears important, at other point in time that appears important. And even if one is able to prioritise, in the prioritisation there is a trade-off. We say, take this and leave that. You gain so much and at the same time, you lose so much. It’s just that you appear to be gaining more than you are losing, so go ahead with this decision.
Do you see this?
So, you go ahead with the decision because overall you seem to be gaining but you can’t get rid of the pain that you have also lost something. Maybe you have gained five hundred units, but you can’t forget that to gain these five hundred units you had to forego two hundred units of something else. There was a compromise involved. Even as you feel happy about what you have obtained, some part of you keeps weeping about what you have lost. In fact, you have adages like “No pain No gain” or that “there are no free lunches” or “to gain something you have to also give up something” and things like these.
So you can never really rejoice in totality. You can never really say that both your hands are full. It’s always one hand that is receiving and the other hand from which something is being snatched away. So, now man is divided. Now man is internally divided. Man does not know what to do.
Is it not so that this same division expresses itself on the outside also?
Is it not so that when there is a strife inside in a mental way, that same war then appears outside in a physical way? You look at any war that is fought, both the parties say that ultimately they want to gain something and in order to gain what they aim to gain they are saying we are prepared to compromise a few soldiers. Alright, we will lose ten thousand men but having lost ten thousand men we will gain something which is bigger than the cost of ten thousand men. So, is the same trade-off thing not happening on the outside also?
‘I will gain a university degree and in the process of gaining the university degree, I might have compromised on something that my heart is really into, but now at least I have a degree and I value the degree higher than the other thing. So I would say on the net, the trade-off is positive.’
That’s how it’s happening. Isn’t it?
I want progress and in the attempt to have progress if I damage the environment a little, it’s acceptable because I can quantify, monetize both the things and see that what I have gained by having more electricity, more convenience, more luxury, better roads, better vehicles, better space ships, is of a higher value than just the two hundred species of birds that we have lost. Yes?
Whenever the mind would act as per influences, there would be inner conflict.
And that inner conflict would become the conflict of the world also.
What’s the way then to not fight internally and hence also not fight externally?
L1: What’s the way? I always fight in myself.
AP: Is it you who fights within yourself or is it one influence that fights with other influence?
L1: Yes, that’s the case.
AP: And you are the battleground. Upon you the fight is taking place.
Why must we become a participant in that fight?
L1: Because we believe in it.
AP: Because we identify with one player, the other player and sometimes both the players. We fight from both the sides often.
I ask you a very basic example.
We went to the beach, we were returning from there. So we watched a bill board, an advertisement displaying one particular mobile phone, then we moved some distance and we come across a shop that is advertising another mobile phone, two phones of different makes coming from different companies, different models. These two companies are competitors. Please see this. These two handsets are competing amongst themselves. They are competing amongst themselves; you don’t have anything to do with that. But if you are influenced by the first one and then you are also influenced by the second one then the fight takes place inside you, then you are torn. Then you are thinking, should I buy this, should I buy that, or should I buy both or should I buy neither of them? Now all four options are available and you don’t know what to do.
L5: Indecisiveness, I see.
AP: Yes, so something that had to be really outside of you, something that you principally had nothing to do with has now become your personal matter. Do you see this? And all this happens like this (indicating with a snap of a finger). Even more subtly than this, you don’t even realise, the eyes look at it, the mind reads it, then the eyes look at that, the minds reads that and it has happened. And you are thinking that you are internally debating on something that is immensely important to you. You feel as if it is you who must decide. You feel as if it is your individual interest that is at stake. You don’t even realise that you have been made a victim of propaganda, that it is somebody else’s battle that you are fighting. Do you see that?
So does that suggest a way to have freedom from this inner conflict?
L1: Not yet.
L2: It’s all minds’ stuff.
L3: Seeing it for what it is.
L4: Or saying it’s not my karma. Whatever I do, whichever one I choose is their karma, not mine.
AP: Even before that, had I not been told to choose, was there a need to choose at all? Had I not been compelled to think about the mobile phone, would I have thought about it at all?Is the thought itself not an external implant like somebody sneaking in foreign stuff in to my home and the stuff stinks and my whole house now stinks along with the stuff? Do we see this? What then is the way to freedom from this conflict?
L1: Realising what you really need, actually need, inside what do I really need.
AP: Now who are we?
We had started off by saying that the child is conditioned, we talked of ego and we talked of attachments. Who are we then? Who is the one who gets influenced by advertisements? Who is the one who is the product of his upbringing, who is this one that we are referring to? Is that not who we are? If that’s not what we are then who else is the target, the aim of all those advertisements?
For sure, a lot of propaganda is taking place; for sure the forces that influence us are very much active, correct? They are there all around us, right? And if not we then who else is the target of those forces? It’s we; which means that it’s we who are the product of that conditioning. This means that whatever I have been is just external and whatever is external just causes division. Hence, the only way to really connect is to not be what we have been trained to be, what we believe ourselves to be. The more that is put aside, the more it is possible to connect with the other. The more blank one is the more one has something in common with the other.
Let’s take an opposite example, in the opposite direction: You write down what I have said over the last forty-five minutes and then I say, kindly elaborate on it. I say now fill four A4 sheets elaborating what I have said. Now would you find more division or less division?
Let’s say all of you write down that I have been talking of, “Awareness”. So, all of you write down a simple word, “Awareness”. Then I say, “Now explain in two pages what I have been saying (about) Awareness. As far as the single word was concerned, there appeared a certain commonality. Everybody is saying, “Awareness”. Now you elaborate on that, “Will you find more division or less division?”
AP: This means that the more you have mental activity, the more you have of yourself, the more you are cut off from your neighbour. Because the more you write about awareness, the more you will write from your own personal point of view. Are you getting this? Do you see this?
This means the more you expand, the more you find yourself in isolation. The more you expand, the more you absorb, the more you are, the more you are in isolation. The only way to be one with someone is to be a Nobody. The more you are grounded in your nationality, the more you believe in your religion, the more you believe in your ethnicity, the more you believe in your economic class, the more you believe in your ideals, your thoughts, your philosophies, your assumptions, the more you will be divided. The only way then to connect is to be blank.
Now, do we see what connects all of us, it’s a certain emptiness, a certain blankness, that’s the only thing that we share with each other, and it’s not the blankness or emptiness of loneliness, it’s an emptiness that sinks, it’s a very expressive emptiness. It’s called emptiness only because it is free and clear of all kinds of impurities, so it is empty of rubbish. That’s what the word emptiness means. That’s the only thing that connects all of us.
This means that as I am speaking, all of us can be in perfect agreement only if we are nothing, thinking nothing, analysing nothing, concluding nothing. That state of meditativeness, when we are so deeply connected that no one here is anyone, you have forgotten who you are, you’re listening so intently that you’ve totally forgotten who you are. You (pointing to another listener) are so immersed in listening that you too have forgotten who you are, now the two of you are one and the two of you are one with me as well. Do you see this? This is the only thing that can connect humanity.
Otherwise, whatever the eyes perceive, whatever the mind thinks of, whatever the society gives is only going to be a cause of division and conflict. Only an absence of all of that, and by the way, the Heart, that you talked of (pointing to another listener) this emptiness is that Heart itself.
The more you are identified with whatever is there in the mind irrespective of what it is, the more you will be violent, parochial, divided, identified, partisan. It doesn’t matter what you’re thinking, you might be thinking the kindest words, you might be upholding the most benign and the most charitable philosophy, yet you would be internally very-very violent, if it is a philosophy. You might be swearing allegiance to the most kind and accommodative thoughts that religion can give you and yet you will find that these very thoughts are causing you to distrust your neighbour.
As long as you are something, and it doesn’t matter what that thing is, as long as you are somebody and it doesn’t matter who that somebody is, you are in for conflict. There is no way I can relate to her as an Indian (pointing to a Dutch lady sitting in the audience). There is no way she can relate to me as somebody who’s spent time in the service industry.
We relate only when we forget who we are.
Do we get this?
Don’t you know that in your own experience? When you are really really in love, do you consider the various social parameters, do you consider your thoughts, your philosophes and such things? When you are really absorbed in music, do miscellaneous thoughts come to you? Do they?
That’s the only way one can connect and relate: By not being the one, one has always been.
The mistake that man makes is: he finds that what he is, is prone to conflict, so he tries to become somebody else. He says, “This that I am, caused problems, caused pain, sufferings, violence, wars, so let me just become somebody else. Maybe the opposite of what I have been previously. And it doesn’t help because you still are somebody. You will be disappointed again; you will find yourself in conflict again.
The only way is to give up this absurd belief in being anything.
Of course, in day to day living, practically, you have to be somebody. You carry a passport, you carry a name, a bank account, you have a house, you have a car; in that sense, you are somebody, but deep within, the identities should not percolate. Deep within you should remain untouched by whatever you are — young, old, man, woman, African, Asian, Martian.
L5: Deep within, you are not an identity.
AP: Yes, of course. The more you connect to the other through identities, the more superficial your relationship would be because as Raka (a lady in the audience) said, deep within there are no identities which means if identities are connecting the relationship is only superficial, not deep.
If a man connects to a woman, the relationship can go deep only to a certain extent. If there has to be a real relationship, then the man will have to forget that he is a man and the woman will have to forget her own gender. Otherwise, the relationship would be only skin deep.
L3: I find it so interesting when you said, “When you all are listening to me, then you all are one”.
AP: Yes, but One not in the sense of following a certain ideology that I might be suggesting, that would be very misleading.
L3: Just listening, only being aware.
AP: Only being aware and that awareness has no content.
If somebody asks you, what are you aware of, you will return blank sheets and if you write something, then you are not aware.
L3: And that feeling that you have with great speakers, like Gandhi or any great person, everyone who listens feel connected.
AP: It’s not even a feeling of being connected because if you’re connected then you are a divided entity. If you are whole, then how can you be connected?
L3: When you’re feeling.
AP: When you’re feeling, there is somebody who is feeling and that itself is division.
L2: Sometimes I would do group meditation and then also it feels so good that you are together and you try not to think of anyone else.
AP: Yes, but in the depths of meditation, do you even remember that there is somebody in front of you or somebody on this side, do you remember that, really? And if you do, then are you meditating? Then you are just socialising.
(Everyone laughs in agreement)
AP: Are you not? Because if you do remember that there is somebody in front of you, then you would also be conscious of the fact that he or she is not performing the right steps. And the fellow on this side is so fit. His leg goes up four inches higher than yours and still keeps his ankle straight. Ninety degrees, wonderful!
In real mediation, you have to be alone. Aloneness is what you discover. Now there is nobody else. Even if there are, yet there is nobody.
L2: I feel when I am with a group it goes better than when I am alone. Then I go deeper and I can forget them.
AP: That can be an initiator, a catalyst; the presence of somebody else like the presence of a teacher, like the presence of a friend or a lover, that can initiate you but that cannot last right till the end. In the end, you have to become one with the teacher or the lover or the friend, in the sense that the separation has to go away, in the sense that when you are gone, how can the other remain! Do you see this?
Meditation means that I am no more there. If you are no more there, then how can the fellow in the front be still there? Yes? That’s a very long answer to a very simple question.
L4: It’s quite clear now.
AP: It’s far better to go into the depths of this than to try superficial methods. Man has always been fascinated by war and in equal measure he has loathed war. Man’s liking for war is matched only by his repugnance for war, towards war. He dislikes war. On one hand man finds war heroic, man worships the generals who have fought in wars and man names streets after them. Don’t we do that?
L3: Yeah, they are heroes.
AP: They are heroes. Countries worship them. On the other hand, we always talk of war as a disease. If war is a disease, then why are you worshipping the soldiers? So it’s very important to not to try half measures, otherwise in spite of the dislike that you have for war, the war will continue. And I am not talking only about physical war. Given the kind of accumulation we have of nuclear weapons, a physical war may not materialise just because it deters one person from using it and in equal amount the other person from using it, but then there is psychological warfare.
The minds are divided. And man lives here (pointing to the head) so if minds are divided that is no better than suffering a wound on the hand, may be worse. With a wound on the hand you can still be peaceful but with a wound in the psyche you can never be peaceful.
L3: I am just thinking the whole psyche is one wound.
AP: The whole psyche is one large wound, yes of course, wonderful, very beautifully said.
So all the methods that we try to prevent conflict, be it the conflict between the husband and wife, between father and son or between two large countries, all the methods that we try are all thought-based, identity-based methods. We try those methods remaining somebody. Do you see this? Remaining somebody we try those methods; those methods are always going to fail. Some may fail immediately; some may take time to declare that they have failed.
The only method that will never fail is that you do not remain who you are.
L2: Stay empty.
AP: Yes, stay empty. Do not forget that you are not that. Let the two mobile phone companies compete with each other, let the competition not begin in your own mind, let it not begin here. As long as you have not become that, war will not start. You remain free of influences and wars will not start.
Emptiness does not fight emptiness; something fights something else, somebody fights somebody else and as long as you are somebody, the other one will be somebody else and there would be war. And let’s also again, not take this as a matter very removed from our daily lives, let’s not say that what do I have to do with war, I have a peaceful house, somewhere in a peaceful village and war is not my concerns. We are not only talking of armies fighting each other. I repeat, we are also talking of the brother and sister not being at peace with each other, of man and daughter not being at peace with each other and fundamentally of man not being at peace with himself. So this is something of immediate and direct concern to each one of us.
L2: That’s why they say in Holland, “Start not from the world but with yourself”.
AP: I would like to say something a little different from this: That which we are is a perpetual starter, it keeps on starting. One need not start with himself, one need to stop himself first. That’s what we need, to stop. No more starts are needed. Fits and starts we have had just too many, we better stop. Better stop yourself.
L1: And another thing is betterment is not necessary.
L4: Self-improvement is not necessary?
AP: Yes. It is not necessary because in self-improvement you retain the core of what you are and then you want to decorate yourself around it. In self-improvement you say, fundamentally I’ll remain what I am, which is my ego centered identity but I will prep it up a little, make it a little more acceptable, maybe more presentable but I will not change or let change my fundamental tendencies.
If I am possessive, I will remain the possessive one, it’s just that now I will show that I am not possessive, so that is self-improvement. Remember, improvement is always gradual, incremental; it’s always on the same base, right? When we say, let’s improve this wall, that doesn’t mean that we will bring down this wall, improving this wall would mean that it gets a fresh coat of paint, it gets a new painting here, a television, two models standing by this wall.
But you will never bring down this wall, so improvement never gets rid of the fundamental problem.
Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity.
Advait in Everyday Life
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