Questioner: Does Spirituality ask us to be non-violent? And Spirituality also asks us to fulfill our duties. So, in today’s world when we are subjected to any kind of violence, it may be physical, emotional, and mental; how best can we fulfill our duties along with non-violence?
Acharya Prashant: A lot of images are there in your statement. First of all, non-violence is not just a particular code of conduct. Non-violence is just about not seeing oneself as limited. Not unnecessarily building boundaries for oneself.
Allow me to clarify. I said, “Nonviolence is about not seeing oneself as limited and not building boundaries around oneself.” How is that non-violence?
What is violence?
Listener: Seeing other as separate from oneself.
AP: Wonderful. Seeing other as separate. And whenever somebody is separate, what you are saying is, “I am this much and you are outside of me. So, my interests then do not include you. Whatever I have to achieve, in whatsoever ways I have to live, I have to live, be, achieve, and die, all by…?”
AP: Myself. So, in that sense, just the being of the other is violence.
You see, I will die, and you will continue living. Is this not violence? I am suffering, and you are laughing, is that not violence?
So, I am separate from you. This separation, this otherness, is violence. Violence need not wait to be manifested as violent conduct. Violent conduct may seldom occur. Violent conduct may even be suppressed by rules of law or morality. Or even fear. Even fear can make you suppress violent conduct. Fear that the police will get you. So you will not allow for the conduct to be violent. But still, the mind will remain violent. Because the mind is seeing the rest of the world, the entire existence as an implicit or explicit enemy. Sometimes an open enemy, at other times, a stranger. And whenever somebody is a stranger, he is an implicit enemy.
Are you getting it?
Spirituality is about not taking existence as an alien or separate place. Not as a strange place. Spirituality is about belonging to existence. Not belonging to a narrow household, or caste or ideology. All these are boundaries. So, wherever there are boundaries, there is violence. Wherever there are boundaries, there is also the fear of being small, powerless, limited. Is there not? The moment this is there, you feel that pang of violence.
That does not mean that the non-violent feels very powerful. Because to feel powerful that would mean that you are ready to exercise power over somebody. Feeling powerless and powerful are almost the same thing. They imply separation, distance. If this thing about non-violence is clear, then we can move to duties. And then the relation between non-violence and duties.
Is the thing about non-violence clear?
What is violence? If that is clear then we can also know non-violence.
Violence is to take yourself as living by yourself. Violence is to feel an orphan in existence. Violence is to feel as if, you have been dropped from somewhere on this Earth. As if you are an alien. And most of us feel that way, right?
We don’t have a total belongingness to life. You feel that you belong to your house or to your city. The moment you go out of your city or your country, you start feeling uprooted. The moment this feeling of being uprooted comes, that is violence.
The really non-violent one is at home everywhere and in every situation. Wherever he is, he is at home. He does not ever feel like a stranger or an alien. He has roots everywhere. If you don’t have roots everywhere, if your being is specific, narrow and localized, then this is violence. If you say, this is my inner circle and everybody out of this is an alien, then this is violence. If we can understand violence, then non-violence is clear.
Duties. Would you know duties, if there are no others? Again, I am asking. Would there be duties if there are no others?
AP: Okay. Would there be duties if there is no otherness?
Okay. Let me ask by an example.
When you are at a workplace, you feel the pressure of duties. In fact, on day one of the job, you are clearly told, what is expected of you, what your duties are. They are often called as responsibilities. Right? You know that this is what I have to deliver. This is my duty. And those are specific duties, you would not want to go beyond them because you are not paid beyond them. Right? Am I right?
Now, look at your relationship with a loved one. Do you still have duties there? One mark of duties is, that you already know what is to be done. Second, you will not go beyond what is to be done.
In a loving relationship, are there duties?
AP: I ask this again. You find that your friend is having a severe headache. And you go and you start giving him a message. Is it written somewhere, that you must oil his head? Has it been communicated to you that the message should last 20 minutes? Are you getting paid for it? And if after 20 minutes, he says, “I am liking it, kindly continue a little more.” Would you say, that this is outside my brief? Let’s talk to the HR.
Would you say that?
Hence, duty is there, when otherness is there. If otherness is not being felt, then there are no?
AP: Now, relate this to violence. What is violence? Otherness.
And what is a duty? Otherness.
Hence all duties are?
AP: And hence, violence, otherness. Hence duties equal?
AP: Hence, nonviolence, is not about following duties. Nonviolence is an action in clarity and love. That alone is nonviolence. Following your duties, your conduct may appear to be nonviolent. He is a very dutiful employee. He is a duty-bound soldier. Your conduct may appear orderly, and nonviolent. But what about the mind?
Outside there would be order, inside? Turbulence, chaos, rebellion.
Listener: Sir, then why did Krishna ask Arjun to fight? He could have explained to him the entire principle of non-duality. He could have just told him that it is not separate, you need not fight.
AP: Yes. So, why did Krishna ask Arjun to fight?
AP: Each of us as individuals, are located at a certain point in time, space and situation. Wherever we are, our action must be such that it points towards the Truth. If our action is not that way, then our action takes us away from the Truth, which is peace. And into chaos, disorder, restlessness. Where Arjun was standing, Krishna could see that the right action for him was to fight.
Remember, that it is already a battleground. Remember that Krishna himself has tried the utmost to avert war. He himself has gone as a messenger to the court of Duryodhana and tried his best.
Now, all that is behind. Now the armies are facing each other and you must fight. That is the demand of the moment that is the appropriate action of the moment. Krishna was not all the time advising Arjun to fight. Krishna was not saying to Arjun, that “Arjun, under all situations it is your duty to fight.” At that moment, now, the right action is that you pick up your bow and arrow and?
Two days before the war had there been a reconciliatory offer; Krishna would have accepted it. He had told the court that just five villages will be sufficient for the Pandavas. You keep the rest of the Kingdom. It is not as if fighting was always a duty. Because Krishna is not someone who would deal in duties. He deals in the right action for the moment. Before the war, the right action is? Please try to prevent war. War means a lot of suffering. So, that was the right action. He was trying his best that war must not happen.
On the battlefield now you cannot act like a peace-nick. Now you have to be an eagle, not a dove. Now you must fight. The days of talking peace are behind you. Now you must fight. So, what Krishna is talking about is not predestined, pre-scripted, duty. He is talking about the right action, in that moment. In that moment, it is not a duty. It is not a duty.
L: So, Sir, in our life, whenever we have to face this dilemma of exercising peace or violence, what is the way to make the decision?
AP: There is no choice there. When it comes to peace, peace is not a choice. Peace is the only way. Peace ‘is’ the only way. It is another matter that when you are driven by peace, and when you are going towards peace, often your actions may appear to be violent. Often your actions may appear to be violent. What do you think, was Krishna doing something that would be different from peace? Krishna is peace personified. But when you look at the sharp arrows of Arjun, the word, ‘peace’ does not come to your mind. Does it?
When you look at the image of Krishna, rushing towards Bheeshm to attack him personally, going beyond his brief as a charioteer, you don’t think that this is peace. You feel as if Krishna is being violent. The expression of peace often looks very much like violence. Here is a hint for you – Truth, peace, love, freedom, these must never be searched in actions. But because we do not have the subtle eye to really look at Truth or freedom, we start acting as per the protocols of Truth and freedom.
Truth is an unsaid thing in the heart. You can speak in Truth, you can never speak The Truth. Love too is a silent music in the heart. You can act in love, but love itself can never be the action.
But what have we done? We look at somebody’s action and then we say, “Oh, what a loving action!” Now how do we manage to say that? By tallying that action with our image of a loving action. So, you come over and offer a chocolate to someone here, most people will say, Oh this is a loving action. Two people are seen hugging each other. And that looks like?
AP: Love. One appears to be stating the facts, and that looks like?
You will never be able to find love in action. The action can originate from love. It must originate from love, but do not try to judge on the basis of action alone. Otherwise, you will totally misread everything. And that happens. And that’s also how we are duped.
Tell me, how do the shopkeepers know that teddy bears stand for love? They very well know that because you do not know real love, hence for you, the teddy bear is love. So, in the name of love, they sell you? Teddy bears. And you buy them. And when you a gift teddy bear to your girlfriend, for her this is an action of?
AP: Now she is mistaken. And you too are mistaken. The shopkeeper too is mistaken.
In fact, the teddy bear is also mistaken.
L: Isn’t the intent? I gifted the teddy bear, I didn’t know what love is, or how should I express it, but my intent was…
AP: No. Your intent was just to copy the social norms of loving action. Had you really been loving, why would you give her a teddy bear? She is 25 years old, what would she do with a teddy bear? There are ten other things that she needs more desperately than a teddy bear. Had you really been loving you would have gifted her with those things. Here is a copy of AIEL (Advait in Everyday Life), gift her that. But no, this would be seen as highly unromantic. Teddy bear is romance. Teddy bear is love.
Now I have nothing against bears, but even the intention must be seen quite clearly. No, the intent is not of love. Had the intention been originating from love, then the intention could not have copied what ten others are doing. How is it so that everyone who is experiencing that upsurge of love, gets a teddy bear? Leave the teddy bear with his own girlfriend. If you know love then you would not bar somebody else from his love. Why are you giving it to your girlfriend?
Don’t you see that we just copy expressions of love? And that’s why those expressions vary so much across cultures. In some cultures it is the cheeks, in other cultures, it is the lips. In other cultures, touching is a taboo. Even the intention, please see… I know it will be hurtful to see that. But please see, the intention is just to communicate to her that I love you, as per the social expressions of love. Now, is love something social? Do you love, in the crowd?
But I really sympathize with you. Because if you don’t give a teddy bear, then you don’t know what might happen the next day.
There are many others who are ready with their own teddy bears.
L: Sir, could you just explain that how was Krishna exercising peace when asking Arjun to fight for himself?
AP: Again here, the question is originating from our images of peace. If I ask you to simply sketch peace. You will not refuse to sketch. Because you have a definite idea of peace. You know what that idea would be? A city in which there are well laid out gardens, people are walking in an orderly way, there does not appear to be any destruction anywhere, a woman is seen talking to a man in a smiling way. Kids are holding each other’s hands, and you will very comfortably say that all this is?
That is why when you look at Krishna, imploring Arjun to fight, a great doubt arises in you! How is this an act, in peace?
I must ask you, how it is not an act, in peace? Then you will see, that it appears to be different from peace, only because you have images of peace. You see, from a house, you hear loud shouts, a slanging match is going on. Husband and wife. In the neighboring house, you don’t hear anything. Which house are you likely to call as peaceful?
L: The second one.
AP: Now, do you see, how wrong you might be?
We have images of peace. The silence in the second house might be a very very violent silence. An extremely dead and violent silence. And the shouts from the first house may actually be very very loving shouts.
Arjun’s arrows are not at all opposites of peace. Peace and Truth are no different. Whatever is right in a moment that alone is the act towards peace. Do not have images of peace. Adjustment and reconciliation can be called peace in diplomacy. But in real terms, in spiritual terms,
Peace is not about adjustment or reconciliation or diplomacy. Peace is about the right action. That alone is peace.
Nobody is saying anything and you say, “Oh, very peaceful.” Come on, how is it peaceful? Peace is not just the opposite of noise. I ask you something; answer this. Right now this air conditioner is turned on. And there is a certain noise that is being produced by it. So, right now it is a little noisy. Let’s turn it off. Gone, no noise. Now tell me what happens then? Are you more peaceful with this noise? Or, would you be more peaceful without this noise?
L: With Noise.
AP: But if I generally ask you, do peace and noise go together? Yes, they do go together. If peace and noise can go together, then peace and arrows can also go together. Don’t have images. If we turn this AC off, this room will become really peaceless. Your minds will become agitated. Not only will there be sweat on the forehead, there will be wrinklings in the brain also.
We are very confident usually. We know what Peace is. We know what Truth is.
Peace and Truth are not objects to be known.
L: Sir, Arjun decided to go to war. Now every war is similar, you try to kill the person before he tries to kill you. Now in every war, common people die, like in serials. So, did Arjun consider this? I mean is he not guilty of killing innocent people himself?
AP: You see, nothing can be seen outside its context. Nothing can be seen outside its context. As a soldier, if you have lived a life, drawing your sustenance out of the state coffers. Then on the day of the war, you cannot complain that innocents are being killed in the war.
If innocents are being killed in the war, why were you drawing the salary as a soldier for the last twenty years?
Now, the law of karma will bear fruit. As they say, the chicken has come home to roost. All the salary that you have taken as a soldier, a day will come when you will have to pay it back with your blood. Are you getting it?
Nothing can be seen in an idealistic framework.
L: But Arjun is fighting for his right.
AP: Arjun is fighting for THE RIGHT, not his right. Arjun was fighting for The Right. Had it been his personal right only, Krishna would not have insisted.
L: Sir, where does this feeling of otherness arise from? Is it purely physical? Or…
AP: It is physical as well. But it is largely psychological. The more you are given a feeling of limited love, narrow care, parochial identification, the more you become somebody. The more you become somebody, the more you lose touch with everybody. Now I am somebody. Somebody means? Somebody special, somebody qualified, somebody distinct. The more you are somebody distinct, the more you are separated from everybody else. I belong to this caste. The moment this feeling is reinforced in you, all other castes become alien to you. Your becoming into something is your separation from everything. And the world is hell-bent on making you something. It will not leave you alone to not be anything, and hence be everything.
A lot of that as we said is done in the name of love and care. Parents feel so happy, bestowing a caste and a subcaste upon you. And identities and rules and norms based on religion, gender, economic status, everything.
Otherness is limits. Wherever there is a boundary, there would be something inside the boundary and something outside the boundary. The one inside the boundary will take the one outside the boundary as the?
AP: The other. So, the moment the boundary comes, otherness has come.
L: I see that the caste system and religion and all-cause otherness. But, are we not taught to identify with the body?
AP: No. That you are not taught. That you are born with. But to identify with your body in particular ways, that you are taught.
For example, I am keeping this mustache these days so I can say; one can identify greatly with this, have you heard that expression? “Moonchh kaa ek baal.” It used to happen that this (mustache) used to be such an important part of your masculine identity that in return for one hair of the mustache, you could raise money in the market. And the one who was giving you money as debt would be confident that you would return the loan because you would come to take your hair back. If you don’t come to take your hair back, that means there is something wrong with your masculinity. So, you could greatly identify with your mustache, or your hair, or any other part of your body, depends on you.
But yes, basic identification with the body is there even in the newborn child, if you prick him, he will cry.
L: Sir, you used a statement, either you are becoming nothing or becoming anything. So, becoming is…
AP: No, No. that was not a very precise use of the word.
Nothing and everything, are not something that you become.
L: But, I want to ask you that when we say nothing or everything, isn’t it a function of time as we are living beings. We will always be acted upon by time and space, so how do we expect that if we go towards nothingness or everything-ness, it won’t be an action in time and space.
Am I getting it wrong?
AP: No, it is both, an action of time and space and also not an action of time and space. Those who have known have put it like this, they have said that the preparation happens in time and space, time is needed for preparation. But the happening is timeless. So, they have put it in this way, they have said, it cannot happen without time, but it also cannot happen only because of time. Both are needed. Time is there and the role of timeless is also there.
-Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity
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