Acharya Prashant: (to the listeners) So, what does Rishikesh mean to you?
L: I wanted to come here since I was 15. I came here few years ago, I just feel at home here, it’s a place somehow very conducive for what we are discussing here. I just enjoy being here.
AP: Will it end when you go back?
L: Yes, I have Visa limitation, so…
AP: So, you will leave Rishikesh.
L: I will leave the external Rishikesh, Yes.
AP: The external may appear special and distinct at times, the Real may appear in an external form, but the external has done its work only if it opens up the internal. And once it has opened up the internal, the external is no more qualified, extraordinary or distinct.
The thing with Rishikesh is that at one point it must call. That is the point of ‘creation’, the setting up of the world. At another point, it must keep you interested; that is like the ‘running of the world’. And then finally, Rishikesh must dissolve. That is the point of ‘dissolution of the Universe’. Rishikesh calls the whole world anyway; the ‘dissolution’ rarely happens. There are a lot of people who come, but there are very few who reach. Coming is wonderful, but one must also reach; reaching is dissolution. There was a point in time, when one was called, there was a point in time when one felt great being here.
What begins, must gain completion. Nothing begins to remain begun. You would have heard it the way the Indians put it, Brahma, Vishnu and then Shiva. Shiva is taken as the highest, because he dissolves. Shiva has no interest in creation. He prepares the ground for creation. How? By flattening everything that was ever created.
Rishikesh is the city of Shiva, it is the city of ending. This Ganga, symbolically it arises from the forehead of Shiva. There are so many other cities for beginning, for commencing; come here to stop. Rishikesh must not become another beginning. We have so many beginnings, don’t we? You meet a new book, it’s a beginning, a new woman, it’s a new beginning, you watch a new movie and it’s a new beginning; so many beginnings. Things must end somewhere. So, no better place to end than Rishikesh. You have been through Brahma and Vishnu, now it’s your time to meet Shiva. Which is alright, because only after having gone through the various Gods and Goddesses, you ultimately come to Shiva. Rishikesh remains meaningless, if you meet this Goddess, that Swami, that Guru and you don’t meet Shiva. Shiva is annihilation, it’s a full stop and every full stop is a ground for infinite Universes.
This Ganga is symbolically a representation, not of flow, but of stillness- comes from nowhere. It only means that it comes from ‘stillness’, from nowhere. Nowhere means, ceasing, stopping.
Shiva does not quite like too much of Brahma and Vishnu. He treats them like infants. Myth has it that they sometimes come running to Shiva, even to resolve petty disputes. And then Shiva gives them a good bashing. All this business of beginning, beginning, coming, thinking, continuing, maintaining, existing; Shiva is alright with it, till the time this all is a joke. The moment it becomes something serious, the moment it becomes somebody’s occupation, or preoccupation, then with one blink of the eye, which eye? His third one. Just one blink of the eye, Shiva says, “Enough of it, go away. What Rishikesh? I am Rishikesh, Rishikesh means nothing.”
That is why I asked you, what is Rishikesh for you? If Rishikesh is anything for you, then you are keeping Shiva in abeyance, then you are keeping Shiva waiting. Rishikesh must become nothing. When Rishikesh will be gone, then Shiva will be there.
It’s good that one comes, but so few people ‘reach’. They don’t reach because they don’t go away. So, they keep coming. ‘Reaching’ happens, when ‘you’ ‘go away’.
L: Places like Varanasi, Thiruvannamalai, would you apply the same to them?
AP: Exactly the same.
See, distinctions are a burden on the mind. If A is different from B, then one has to remember both A and B. It is wonderful when A to Z are all one, then you can just remember A and forget everything else. And when A to Z, all are nothing, then it is an even bigger relief. You need not remember anything, the mind is totally free. So, one mark of spirituality is to not to create distinctions. Not to have anything extraordinary.
You know, this place where you are sitting, it is designed to be extraordinary. What do you think, is this an ordinary table? No, it is not. What do you think, this is an ordinary light. Or this music, do you think this is ordinary? None of it is ordinary. The Ganga was ordinary, as long as it was natural. Now it is social.
The Ganga that you are watching here, is not Shiva’s Ganga, it is society’s Ganga. All of this around is carefully designed to be spiritual, and spirituality does not come by design. Down there in the cafe there was a woman who was so wistfully looking at the Ganga, staring out from the window, and they were playing the sound of the flute, she is staring as if she is beholding God, the father himself. Would she have stared or looked the same way, had she not had the knowledge that this is Ganga? It is just the knowledge, the information that this is the particular holy river that is bringing that expression on her face. But she probably has some guru, who will tell her, “Oh, you just experienced Ananda, you just got a glimpse of Moksha.” That’s rubbish. So fake, so artificial.
Life is as natural as a dog, a horse, a snake or a rabbit. We even have designed wonderment, so that you can sit by the Ganga in the nights, and look at her with great cultivated wonderment. And convince yourself that you are getting a feel of the divine. Yes? And when you narrate that experience next day, in some spiritual setting, where others too are listening, then you get credit for that, “Ah, he experienced something, Oh you missed out, you must also try out.” It would be a pity to return empty-handed from India. You must get some kind of divine experience.
And so all the preparations have been made for divine experience. Can you see around, all these shops that are selling kurtas, even the names of the cafes? There was one called ‘Buddha Momos’, ‘little Buddha cafe’, Nirvana cottage, even the names are divine, holy. Now, how can you miss out on enlightenment? You have to have enlightenment. You would be forced to be enlightened. The smell of incense, you know it is pollution. It is making the air heavy. But if your mind is conditioned to think of something as holy, then you will say, “Oh, the air is aromatic.” It is not aromatic, it is polluted. Incense pollutes the air, and if you breather a lot of it, then your lungs will rebel.
L2: Perhaps we can say that ordinary worldly life is like heroin, and so called spiritual life is like mephedrone.
AP: They all go to just one place, dopamine. The aim of all this is just to activate that. And then you start feeling a little light and high. It is just that it is morally indefensible when it comes from drugs, and it is morally very acceptable when it comes from the Gods.
All of this is just a contrast to our urban lives. That is why initially it appears attractive. Yes it does attract, I too experienced that attraction, but that attraction is there because it is a change from our regular patterns. But in the change of patterns, the demand to be still in patterns is continued. It is like a picnic, a holy picnic.
L2: If I may argue, it could be a picnic for many people, but for a person like me, I get to meet other people who are burning, so I also start burning in the process. For example I am wet, still not ready to catch fire, so when I come in presence of people who are burning, it reflects on me. Last year I came to Rishikesh, I decided I will not come this year, but something got me here. I went to Thiruvannamalai a couple of times which is my birth place. I have never been there in 50 years, but last year something took me there. And I went there 2-3 times, without any plan.
This time also before coming to Rishikesh, I went to Thiruvannamalai for some other reason, so I could visit the ashram there. So in Rishikesh also, you come here and meet people who really make an impact on you. There are people who are so quick to catch things, and people like me who are heavily conditioned, for them it is a struggle. For me, the struggle was there, the mind was always wanting to take control. And it is only through a process of 2-3 years, many things are gone, but still it is not gone.
So, one gets to meet people, for ex. had I not been to Rishikesh, I would have not met you. I have read your blogs, one of my mentees, is a follower of your blogs, so he had introduced you to me. So, it is just Grace that in Rishikesh, I happened to meet you. So, I guess it is something which is Divine plan.
AP: See, you look at little kids, watching TV, what is happening to them? They are being impacted, influenced. You watch youngsters, chasing role models, they are being impacted. Are we not already sufficiently impacted; to be impacted is to be influenced, conditioned again and again? Are we not sufficiently impacted that we want more impacts? Would it not be more important to see that I am already so full of impacts, imprints and influences? That is one thing.
Second thing is as you said, a wet man may come close to one who is burning, and that rubs off some of the fire on him as well. Let us say, nobody is here, but there is a general news that something burns here. So, who is the first man who would come here? Who is wet? Who is the next man who would come here, who is again? Wet. Ultimately, the city will be all full of wet people. Now who is burning? All those who are coming here, are coming in expectation of one who is burning. But who is burning?
Ultimately, it is just a huge crowd of all wet people, expecting that there must be surely someone who is burning. But have you ever tried to figure out whether there is ‘actually’ someone who is burning. And ‘actually’ means ‘Actually’.
L2: I do get to meet people who are realized…
AP: How do you figure out that somebody is realized?
L2: There is no way of figuring out, but you just feel…
AP: You feel, just as you feel that this juice is sweet. You feel, just as you feel that a movie is obscene, or wonderful, you feel just as you feel that it is time to marry or it is time to set up a new business.
L2: It is something beyond that. It actually comes from your heart, when you look at a person you feel that. So, it may be wrong.
AP: So, your feeling is dependent on your looking?
L2: No, it is by being with that person….
AP: So, how do you be with somebody?
L2: It could be the person somewhere…..
AP: If it could be there somewhere then travelling would be unnecesssary.
L2: I am not talking about very distant, it is about knowing that person. For example I came to Rishikesh, I met another person who is some Swami Ji who is very well read in….
AP: Let me ask you a question. Those who come here in search of holy people, who are the holy people that they meet? They meet people who have already been declared by the society as Holy. Do you come to Rishikesh and meet a holy man in a rickshaw puller? And, is that rickshaw puller not hailing from Barabanki or Patna? Why couldn’t you meet him there? When we meet holy men, these are the holy men who have been crowned as holy. We have been conditioned to meet them as holy. Is holiness a matter of human certification?
L2: But is it not a matter of faith?
AP: But find out, look at the facts of this so-called faith.
L2: No, it is coming from within.
AP: It may be coming from within. All the people who are coming here, where do you find them going? Where are they flocking to?
L2: You know, most people come here for different pursuits. There are some pursuing Yoga, some meditation, some are following various other paths of spirituality. It is like a marketplace for various paths to salvation.
AP: Yes…yes…So, they already know what they are coming here for?
L2: They are coming here they have been told that you go there, you do this, you go to this particular Swami.
AP: So, it is a ready-made holiness. It is a preordained divinity.
AP: Just like you are told that this politician is good, just as we are told that the religion we are born in, is the best, just as we are told that the country we are born in is the best. We are told by someone external. If I have already been told, then what will be the quality of my experience, won’t it be a biased experience already?
People come here, because deep within there is an expectation to find something here. And when there is an expectation to find something, you will find that. Whether or not it exists. When you are already convinced that something is here, then you will find it.
L2: Sir, many westerners come with no expectations.
AP: No, if they have no expectations then they won’t come.
L2: Sir, they just want an experience, a holy experience
AP: Go again into your statement, what kind of experience do they want? If I am expecting a holy experience, I will get a … Holy experience.
L2: Yes, sure, so they don’t get transformed, they just have the experience with them…
AP: To get transformed, you cannot walk on a path laid out by you. When they are coming here for a holy experience, even an ordinary bird will appear holy to you. If you are told that a particular land is the land of fairies, then even the ordinary girl there will look like a fairy to you.
So, it is the same here, when you have been told that people are burning here, so even the most wet of men will appear as burning to you. In the real world they are the most ordinary of people. Even lower than ordinary, even more conditioned than you. Just because they are sitting on high pedestals and are sitting in a so called holy city, you start venerating them. You take them out to your own place, you take away their thrones from them, then what are they? But they have been kept afloat and kept lofted by people who come here, hoping to have a holy experience. So, they serve as the fulfillers of that hope.
L2: Yes, but there are some people whom I have met and in their eyes you can see complete …. Nothingness…
AP: Yes, wonderful, but what I am asking you is, why didn’t you meet them in Calcutta?
L2: They didn’t come to Calcutta
AP: Ah! What do you think, divinity is concentrated in a particular geography?
L2: No, I am not saying that.
AP: If you have an eye to see them, you will see them in Calcutta too, but why are you only seeing them in Rishikesh?
It only means you are just projecting and imagining, there is no greatness as such…
AP: Yes, and to say bluntly, it means that we are wasting our time here… And if we are’nt wasting our time here then there is enough of divinity in Scotland and Calcutta also. The grass is equally green there. The water is Ganga, there as well.
L2: Yes, of course. When you think that you are controller of life, then you go to many places and then you hit a roadblock, which takes you to a different place and then you are absolutely free. So, it is not that by choice they are having this experience, in the process something happens, to some people, I am not saying it happens to all. And then they feel that is grace.
AP: And then that grace, must not be linked to their choice. Then that grace is happening irrespective of their choice.
AP: And it could have happened anywhere. You could have met me anywhere.
L2: Yes, so the fact that I happened to meet you here, is just grace, it has no reason…
AP: Yes, so don’t link it to Rishikesh.
L2: No, I am not saying that. It is just Grace…
AP: Yes, Grace, unreasonable grace. It could have happened even without Rishikesh. And you are missing out on all that which is waiting to happen elsewhere.
L2: That I don’t know
AP: Ah! You must know. That is so important. Because there is a world waiting to open up in Calcutta for you. Calcutta is so holy.
So, if one comes to a particular place for general travel then it is okay.
L2: Yes, in that case it is such a nice place for us city dwellers to be. So much of nature and mountains all around… It is beautiful.
AP: Yes. How does a sparrow comes to Rishikesh? Just as the sparrow visits, Haldwani or Nainital. So, visit Rishikesh like a sparrow, not like a spiritual seeker. Is that not so? The sparrow does not avoid Rishikesh and it also does not think that it will find something special here. Nothing special is here, only God is special.
L: Everything is inside (pointing towards his own body)..
AP: No no, not inside the body. You are pointing inside the body. Inside the body there is only flesh. ‘Inside’ means something else,
Inside does not mean inside the body. Inside also does not mean inside the brain. Those who talked of the ‘Inside’ they meant something else. But look at the way we say inside, as if it is somewhere inside the body.
L: Once I was in Scotland and I had started a new job, and we were training a small group and it was just everyday people. So, on the first day for some reason I was in a very judging frame of mind. And I was thinking, I could do a better job than this trainer, when he was spending most of the time gossiping. And people were talking about their boyfriends, their pets, TV, soap operas, and I was thinking what stupid people. For some inexplicable reason, the other day I found out my own arrogance in the judging and there was a spontaneous remorse and some emotional release. And then there was altogether another way of being opening up. And with the same set of people I started to feel them as angels. And in the same soap operas, pets, and boyfriends, there was such profound wisdom.
AP: And what do you think, this second part, this transformed vision, is it any more real than that which you call as an arrogant way of looking? Do you think this second one is more real than the first one? It appears nice, but is it more real than the first one? You know, that is the basic law of duality. You have an experience that you call as an experience of arrogance, then you have another one which you call as experience of humility. You must ask whether the second one, the second one does appear nice and better, I have no dispute with that; but is the second one any closer to Truth than the first one? The second one is Rishikesh and the first one was Scotland. Is the second one any more real than the first one?
L: Ultimately not
AP: That is Shiva talking. That’s Shiva. That is the full stop, now stay there… Don’t move.
Shakti is wonderful, only when she is emanating from Shiva. Only when Shiva as center, does Shakti have life. Otherwise there is no Shakti.
So what do you do, do you dance here in Rishikesh sometimes.
L: Dance, no. Sometimes in my room.
AP: (Laughing) Dance in room, why? Because it is not fashionable here?And Sir (to the other listener), what about you? Do you dance?
L2: Only when it is coming from inside…
AP: If you will resist yourself, the only thing that will come from inside will be burps.(Laughter)
Do, you know Shiva dances beautifully. They say he is the ultimate dancer. He dances like mad, crazy. And it is such a wonderful thing. Shiva in all his majestic stillness, is dancing. He is the king of dancers, Natraj, mightiest dancer. ‘Nat’ has two meanings, ‘Nat’ means the dancer, ‘Nat’ means the one who is an expert in skills, and ‘Nat’ also has the connotation of the one, who does something unbelievable, almost deceptive.
And he is the king of all Nuts, Natraj. Are you Nuts enough?
In Advait, you can be there, only if you are a Nut.
L: Why is Shiva depicted smoking Ganja sometimes?
AP: He is a nut. What else do nuts do?
This is much more like Shiva, you know. Light, in company of animals, some snake, some bull, other miscellaneous things coming from here and there, some ghosts, and beautiful women, who are coming to him even though he is half-naked, wearing ashes, not taking a bath in the Ganga. The Ganga, sprouts from him.
The Shiva never goes to take a dip in the Ganga, He is the origin of all Gangas.
The moon here (pointing towards his forehead), sexy, is he not?
Where there is Shiva, there is freedom. Then, there is no planning there. Shiva does not live a designed life, does he? Do you think anything about Shiva is manmade, ready-made, cultivated, fabricated? That is what Shiva is.
L: What is the meaning of “Prashant’?
AP: Shaant means peaceful. Prashant means even more peaceful, which means… Not quite peaceful actually (laughing).
L: When I was in Gujarat I stayed there in an ashram and there was a Samadhi there of some crazy mad man. Some recordings of his sayings were there, so someone asks, “Swami Ji, how do we find shanti?” He said, “Forget shanti, first kranti, then shanti.”
AP: I don’t know in what context he said it, but what he said is wonderful. It is right that we need a ‘kranti’ (a revolution), but the kranti we need will not be an active kranti. As we are all already too active. It would be a kranti in which we shun all activity.
A child, simply splashing water in his bath-tub, is to me, more of a spiritual icon, than any accomplished guru. He has more of the untouched play of Shiva in him. Whatever I have learnt, I have learnt only by looking at kids, insects and cocks and dogs. I have never had one human being as teacher, so I have been forced to learn from dogs, rabbits, roosters and…
AP: He is a wonderful teacher. I have learnt from him also.
-Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity
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