What is this thing called enlightenment that you are chasing?

Acharya Prashant:  She said that she feels worst today. She told that she came to India in 1989. Experience creates respect for her, the kind of commitment she has shown, the devotion she has put in all these years. And at the same time I found it quite tragic that someone should waste an entire lifetime chasing enlightenment. What you have to say about it?

Listener: I don’t feel it’s wise sincerely. Today I spent some time reading a poet named Rabia. I read about her life that she has been sold to sex trade and being forced to work as a sex worker for so many years and in that time yearning so much for union with God and upon fifty years old she finally got released from this and went on to become a very renowned saint who writes some of the most amazing poetry I have ever seen. I was reading some of the poems in which she speaks about her faith in God and describing reunion. I see her getting her reward.

AP: For the sake of solutions is it great to create problems? What is the problem of enlightenment? If you are chasing something it is surely a problem for you. What is this thing called enlightenment that you are chasing?

L: Union with God is another way that people look at it that there is a different thing possible.

AP: Do you chase enlightenment in your deep sleep? Is this union with God not just an idea? If union with God is an idea then separation from God is also just an idea. First of all you imagine a separation from an imaginary God and then you imagine that you need a lot of effort to reach this imaginary God and you spend years and decades of your lives in this pursuit. Is it not tragic?

L2: We spend years and years here anyway but I don’t see how chasing for enlightenment is more or less tragic than any other thing that we pursue in life.

AP: So whatever one is pursuing in life, one is ultimately pursuing enlightenment: enlightenment by other names,  enlightenment by another means. Some people pursue it in commercial centers, corporate offices, board rooms and some people pursue it in spiritual centers, meditation rooms. But everybody is pursuing an idea of fulfillment.

L3: I keep on moving from one interest to other but nothing helps. This makes my life more intense. Nothing helps

AP: I again request you to be a little more sensitive to the situation of this person who says that having put in twenty-seven years of time into this, she feels worse than when she started. All possible cities, all possible methods, and she feels worse than when she started. Is it not so that first of all an imaginary problem is unnecessarily built up in the mind and in the problem is contained the so-called solution to the problem? A solution which is not actually a solution but a part of the problem.

Right when one is convinced that one is lacking in something, one is also told what one needs to do in order to make up for that lack. If you are told that you are lacking in social acceptability, then you are also told that you need to lose some weight or become more amiable, more communicative. If you are told that you lack in academic acceptability, then you are parallelly told that you probably need to get better grades, study harder etc. So, similarly when you are told that you lack in spiritual acceptability, God will not open his doors for you, then you are told that you need to become a better devotee, a better reader of the scriptures and so one proceeds to solving the problem.

At the centre of all the efforts towards enlightenment lies the assumption that God is distant, that God is somewhere out there and I am far from him. Did God come and say that? Did God ever come and say that he is far away? Have we ever enquired from where this idea comes to us? The idea that God is somewhere out there and there are three, four or thirty possible ways to him and one needs to try one or more ways, put in time, put in energy, show some concentration and ultimately reach there and celebrate.

From where did this idea come?

L2: It comes in the teachings.

AP: Do we see from where these teachings come into us? Child is being deeply steeped in inferiority and incompleteness. A child is being told that there is something fundamentally wrong with him. Had the child been really told that the society is not accepting him, then it would have been a smaller travesty. But when the child is told that he is distant from God, even God is not accepting him, unless he fulfills certain conditions, unless he becomes enlightened. Do you see how big psychological wound this is?

And then there is the imaginary ideal that upon enlightenment one eats, lives, behaves, talks and walks in a certain fashion – keeps smiling, displays no anxiety, one’s personality has a distinctive nature. And in the name of enlightenment one keeps trying for all this personality traits. After which there are only two options, either you start mimicking those traits, you start artificially wearing the mask of those traits, you start walking like a Buddha, you start imitating a saint (which is your concept of a saint or idea of a saint) or if you are a little less dishonest, then you simply accept that you are getting frustrated and more frustrated by each passing day. Either of these two is bound to happen.

Either you become a hypocrite who imitates, acts, copies as if he is nearing enlightenment or if he is a little honest then he finds himself burning in the frustration of not nearing enlightenment in spite of all his efforts. Is either of these any good?

L2: Is it impossible then for humans to reach enlightenment?

AP: Why must a human being chase enlightenment? Why are you not alright in your unenlightened state? Why can’t you be shamelessly unenlightened?

L4: But can you explain enlightenment?

AP: You are asking me to define enlightenment; unfortunately that word only has a definition nothing more than that. The definition is that you look, talk, walk like a Buddha. You experience an eternal peace. If you ask me that is it impossible to get enlightened, then yes it is totally impossible for human beings to be enlightened. The answer can be interpreted in two ways: one, if you are already enlightened then how you can be any more enlightened? So it is impossible for you to be enlightened. Second, being enlightened you would still remain what you are. So it is impossible for you to “become” enlightened.

Reaching enlightenment is like reaching another state, whenever you reach to a state you are just reached exactly that-“a state”. And a state which is reached will also be a state that is surpassed. A state which comes will also be a state which goes. So if enlightenment is something to be attained, then enlightenment could be sooner or later dropped as well. You would surpass enlightenment and search for a bigger enlightenment; like smaller burger, bigger burger.

L4: Then what is enlightenment? Why are we chasing enlightenment?

AP: You tell me, (laughing) I am not chasing enlightenment. What is this bogie of enlightenment? Everybody seems to be selling enlightenment and there are too many of you who are eager to buy from their shops.

L2: I see people chasing enlightenment and I think that a lot of people have this sense of restlessness, this unease within us and we do not know how to put that to rest, how to let it go.

AP: If you want enlightenment and you do not get it then obviously you will feel restless. Are you seeking enlightenment because you are restless? Or are you restless because you are seeking enlightenment? Pay attention to this. If you drop your pursuit would you still feel restless? Your argument is that you are restless hence you want enlightenment. Can it be not the case that because you want so much, because you are ambitious to get enlightenment hence you feel restless? Why are you inverting the situation? Why are you inverting the cause effect chain?

L5: I felt very restless and that’s why I got into this stuff that I wanted to be enlightened.

AP: Can you be restless without a cause?

L5: No.

AP: So there is the cause. The cause is un-fulfillment and that sence of un-fulfillment itself is a borrowed cause then it can only be dropped, it cannot have a solution in the form of enlightenment. Enlightenment is not something that you attain. Enlightenment is when you drop that thing which makes you search for enlightenment. There is something which makes you restless, there is a cause. The disappearance of that cause is enlightenment. And remember that the cause is not something intrinsic to you; it’s a borrowed cause, it’s an implanted cause. That cause is not really your nature. You cannot say that the cause is central to your existence. You can live without that cause. You can live without that restlessness.

If the restlessness goes away, you do not lose anything, so it is not central to your life but still you are carrying it. Now instead of keeping on carrying it in one hand and searching for the solution by the other hand, why don’t you simply drop the cause itself? Your condition is like, you are holding burning charcoal in one hand and with the other you are dialing the doctor. “Doctor, my hand is burning. What to do? Offer me enlightenment.” Now instead of turning to the doctor, instead of investing so much energy in running towards the ocean so that your hand may find relief, why don’t you simply drop the charcoal?

Is the charcoal part of your being? No! You are unnecessarily clutching it. With one part of the self you hold on to the problems, with other part of the same self you search for a solution, a solution which is very much a part of that problem. How wise is that… Visualize yourself, hot charcoal in your hand and you are saying “Doctor, what to do when the hand is burning? Meditation? Yoga? Rishikesh? Which therapy?” You would do anything but you would not simply drop the charcoal.

You would say that I am restless, that is why I need sometreatment.

L2: How will we learn to drop the charcoal?

AP: How did you learn to hold the charcoal? Did you ask me this question while holding it? Then you were so clever that you picked it up and now you are saying that it’s so difficult to drop it, give me a method, some technique, some profound wisdom so that I may drop it. You have been holding this burning mass for so long that now you feel that it is a part of your physique. You feel it as a part of your being, your personality. It is not. You are alright simply as you are. You are born enlightened. Simply drop the notion that there is something wrong with you.

Society, church, education, media, they all come together to prove to you that you are a sinner, that you are inferior, you lack something. And that sense of littleness, that sense of incompleteness manifest itself in the search for enlightenment. When you become deeply convinced that there is something terribly wrong in you, then you start searching for a solution called enlightenment. No healthy being would ever search for enlightenment.

Figure out what it is that make you feel that you are not healthy and drop that. It will not be difficult to figure that out because whatever makes you feel that you are not healthy would be making its presence felt continuously. So you will be quickly able to put your figure on that. Disease makes itself felt continuously. If you have fever, the fever makes itself felt.

So whatsoever is misfit in your life, whatsoever is needlessly present in your life, would be making itself felt continuously, drop it. Whatsoever is harmoniously present in your life will be almost absent, you would not be thinking about it. And whatsoever need not be present in your life will be continuously sending reminders of its presence through thoughts, through responsibilities, through phone calls, it will be making itself felt, drop it. Instead of trying to attain enlightenment, stay wherever you are and drop your unnecessary baggage. May be that is enlightenment.

L4: We are coming to India; it’s a nice place than the west because of the social mask we have to wear in the west. It is easier to drop when you come to India.

AP: The intension is good but does that really happen? Or does it so happen that in the name of dropping one’s old baggage, one only takes a new and a different kind of spiritual baggage? What you are saying is wonderfully accurate, that one may try for a change of situation or place so that it becomes easier to drop the old. In some cases that may work. But do you see that working here, for most of us?

L4: People say that they are not at rest.

AP: Yes and I like those people due to their sincerity. I really liked the lady I met in the morning and I saluted her.

L4: But I do not understand how you can feel worse after so many years.

AP: She did, she was. You would have looked at her face and seen the suffering. You can feel worse only when you have tried really hard, when you have given everything to the pursuit and still you have not succeeded. That’s when you feel totally broken and desperate.

L4: It’s very strange because everyone says that you have to be in fire, and you have to burn to reach enlightenment. I am burning for so many years, so is it bullshit?

AP: Yes it is bullshit because the one who is crying out to be killed is the one would get strengthened even if the so-called killing happens. Real killing is a very subtle activity, it is not a thing of demonstration. It is a dropping of your inner most belief and that inner most belief is nothing but a belief of smallness, a belief of incompleteness. If you do not feel incomplete then why would you sit in front of someone and cry out to him to kill you?

You know what you are saying? That I am so small that I can’t even kill myself; I am so impotent that even to kill myself I have to go to somebody else; I am so afraid that I can’t even commit suicide so I am begging you to kill me. Now is this a removal of your sense of inferiority or a further confirmation of your inferiority, what is it?

When I said that people do not really get rid of their old beliefs here, they may come with that intension but instead they go back with more new, fancy, metaphysical beliefs, please see, this is one belief that one needs to be killed. What is this killing really? Does one know? But it becomes fashionable to talk like this, “Can I be killed? Can I be dissolved?” Nice words, big words, poetic words but they don’t help. You want to live or you want to waddle ones words?

I invite you to see, the feeling of shame or guilt is quite central in this entire search towards enlightenment. And nothing in existence is shameful of itself except man. Nothing in existence wants to become something except man. Only man feels a terrible need to change his state, only man is ambitious. We think of ambition to be something big but the fact is, all ambition, including the ambition to be enlightened arises from a feeling to be small.

If you do not feel small, how can you try to feel big?

You know, it is very easy to convince someone that, he is small. I face a great challenge convincing people that they are alright, not small. We have been so deeply convinced that there is something wrong with us that when someone says that there is nothing wrong in you, that you are alright, you become full of suspicion. “What did he just say? I am alright? Even my cat does not think I am alright. How can I be alright?”

Our feeling of inferiority is our engine. All our energy arises from our incompleteness and that’s why that energy is so much destructive and chaotic energy.

L4: Do we have to give up all ideas, about relations, about parents and family?

AP: But a family is there. Why you need an idea of the family? If I am in front of you, do you need an idea of me or do you need me? In fact you do not even need me because I am already there. What you want to do with ideas? What will you do with your idea of your wife? How does the idea help you? Does the idea of wife ever serve you a single cup of tea? Has the idea of wife ever given you a moment of relaxation?

L4: Yes! That we can go home.

AP: The idea that you can go home. Is that idea home?

L4: No, but you know that someone is there in the home.

AP: But when you are thinking that there is a home and there is somebody home, even at that moment you are somewhere. Why is that place any less important? Remember that place is made supremely important by the fact that you are there and since you are there, you need not think about the home because that place itself is a home by virtue of the fact that you are there. Now why are you thinking of another home?

L4: Because we think that we will enjoy there.

AP: So go! But why must you think and go?

L4: Because the wife is out of country.

AP: I fully agree. I am saying go. But does going necessarily involve thinking?

L4: We have to buy a ticket.

AP: Then buy a ticket. But why you have to think and buy a ticket?

L4: Because you have to know where to.

AP: Does thinking lead to knowing? Please pay attention to it. Is knowing a matter of thinking?

L4: No, but this society force you that you have to think.

AP: You are buying a ticket to go home. Where the society come in this? Sitting here right in front of me, you can continue thinking of the airlines.

L4: No, I won’t. This is my home for a few days.

AP: Do you know that, when you are listening intently to me? Does that thought come to you? You may not have to go after a few days but you may have to leave after an hour. Your flight departs this morning from Delhi but right now you are here with me. Must you think? You may think, but is it necessary?

L4: At a certain time it is necessary.

AP: (laughing) is it necessary? Is that not another thought that at a certain time it would be necessary? Is it necessary?

L4: Not now.

AP: There is nothing except the now. So it is not necessary. And if it is not necessary right now then it is not necessary at all. Whatsoever is necessary is necessary only if it is necessary right now. Otherwise where is it necessary? Only in imagination.

L4: If we will not go then the police will come.

AP: Are they here? Where is the police? Show me the police. (Everybody laughing)And if you are thinking about the police when we are talking then you are missing me and I am missing you, and we both are with the police. Do you see how the thought of something leads you to miss everything else including the thing itself? You might be sitting in front of a person and thinking about that person. Now are you with that person?

There is this small mountain site in front of you. If you start thinking about it, are you with it? Is the mountain, the thought of the mountain? But where there is a thought, there is bound to be a search for enlightenment. You cannot search except in your thoughts. In life there is no search, there is only a constant fulfillment. Only thought is a hollow, only thought is a vacuum, an endless vacuum. There, there is no fulfillment. Nobody was ever satisfied in his thoughts and what we see is nothing but a fulfillment in thought, a satisfaction in idea. The realization of an ideal is what we see.

Don’t we say, let’s have a vision and materialize it. What you call your dream future? You first of all visualize a future and then you work very hard to materialize it. Now is that a wonder, that people remain frustrated? Existence will not correspond to fancies.

L2: May I ask about loss? Like when you lost someone and they only exist in your thoughts. Is it not important to hold them in your thoughts?

AP: If you were really in love with someone then they exist not at all in your thoughts. If the relationship is so fulfilling then they exist right in your blood. They are the part of your complete view. You think about someone only when there is a distance and you want to maintain that distance. In fact thought is not an intimate contact between two individuals. If thought is the intermediary between two individuals then contact cannot be intimate. When contact is intimate, thought is not needed.

Anybody here with a really settled relationship, a relationship of great friendliness? You will find that there is no need to communicate greatly. You will not find a compulsion to call that person daily. In fact for many days altogether you can conveniently forget that person. Neither you nor that person will grudge. That is one mark of a healthy relationship. It does not depend on memory, thoughts or repetition. It is so inherently secure that it does not ask for validation, revalidation, and reconfirmation.

If I am in a really loving relationship, why would I keep thinking about that person? That person has become me, that person is me and I am that person.

L5: I think about something and I feel satisfied or unsatisfied. What would come out of it?

AP: Nothing will come out of it. This is the classical game of duality. What will come out of it? Even you will not come out of it. Someday you will die. Nothing comes out of this. It is just that ancient see saw duality. Sometimes this side is heavier sometimes the other side is heavier. You come down only to get up; you get up only to come down. You are satisfied only because you will be again dissatisfied.

L5: Till we have mind, thoughts arise.

AP: Mind will be there and thoughts will also arise. You have to be contended in the middle of all this rubbish. As long as the police are there, the thought of police will keep coming. You have to remain un-policed even in the middle of all the police around you.

L5: Does that happen?

AP: Yes it happens. In the middle of all the anxiety, tension, you still have to remain free of anxiety. You will be the one who is anxious but while anxious you would be still not anxious. You would be the one who is angry but even while angry it’s possible to still not be angry. I am not saying that you are not angry, you are angry and yet not angry. If you are wishing for particular enlightened state in which anger is not at all there then you will keep chasing that state and it will not going to come.

The lady says, “but they talk of freedom from anxiety, freedom from anger” I say that they talk of scriptures and scriptures do say freedom from anxiety. But do the scriptures say death of anxiety, death of anger? Then what does the freedom from anger mean? Freedom from anger means that anger will be present but you will not be angry. Anger will be there but you will be free of it. Anger is there in the mind yet there is something else which is not angry. Then your anger has a special quality about it.

But if the whole search for enlightenment is to come to a state where nothing like anger exist then you can keep hoping before it materialize.

Most people, who come here, deserve respect for the courage they have shown in keeping the normal patterns of life behind at least for a while. They have broken away from a lot. They have dropped a lot that is considered so important. Now this is one last thing that is remaining, that needs to be dropped. This search too needs to be dropped.

The lady asked me, “Now what do I do? Till now all that I would do from morning till evening was purposeful, aiming at enlightenment. If I drop the search then I am left with nothing. How would I live, what do I do?” Drop the search, you will simply have fun. Roam the streets, this place is beautiful. You haven’t made a mistake by coming here. But you have made a mistake if you have come here to get something.

Be here, chill out, the river is nice, the sun is nice, and the weather is pleasant. This place welcomes you. In fact it pampers you. Does it not? So

Walk in fulfillment, do not walk for fulfillment.

Walk these streets, they are beautiful. Walk because you are already fulfilled. You are as fulfilled as the river is. She is continuously moving towards the sea, that does not mean that she is unfulfilled, her journey is continuously on, yet she is alright. She is not crying that till I don’t meet the sea how can I call my life worthy? She is alright. The journey would continue but in the middle of the journey feel home. Even when you are in the middle of the journey, realize that you are already home.

Let no one convince you that there is something wrong with you. And they would never directly tell you that there is something wrong with you because it will appear humiliating and you will reject them. So they always put it indirectly. They say, come to us so that we may improve you, come to us so that your life may become better. Now what is it that is really being said? If it’s being said that your life needs improvement, isn’t it implied indirectly that your life is not alright currently? So just be cautious of those who offer you improvement, betterment, some higher state of consciousness, some deeper awareness, some fourth state of being, third eye, may be eighty third sense, all you need is a number and a fancy word.

Once I saw somebody cuddling a fourth tongue as well. He said that there is not only one tongue; there are four tongues. From the fourth tongue whatever you say materializes immediately, it’s a Siddhi. So come to my shop and I’ll give you a fourth tongue, it’s a one month course.

L5: You went?

AP: Of course I did. (Everybody laughing) I am greatly interested in such things. In fact I am interested only in such things. There is no bigger joke than humans stupidiy. If you want to have fun, just go to such places.

L5: So what was in the course?

AP: What do you think could have happened of the course after I went in?

L5: I am not asking what happened. I am asking what the course that they were offering was?

AP: Be cautious of the small traps of mind. By being interested in something, you never know when you’ll be sucked in and it may happen that tomorrow at 4 o’ clock you are missing. We are asking where are you and you are found rolling the fourth tongue.

L5: Anything is possible.

AP: Anything is possible but you are the one who suffers and then it is not so cool. Right now you act as if it is so cool but when it bakes on your head then it is not so cool. Don’t let it inflate beyond a point. You know, mostly people walk into these shops just out of curiosity and then you are sucked in. That is the nature of the senses. The senses get affixed and the mind gets accumulated.



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

Watch the session: Acharya Prashant: What is this thing called enlightenment that you are chasing?

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Connect to Acharya Prashant:

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