Acharya Prashant: Topic in hand is ‘Nothing’.
It is remarkable that just as other words have a certain call — because they mean something because they point at an object — the word ‘Nothing’, too attracts. When Kunal (one of the listeners) said that the topic right now would be ‘Nothing’, was it totally disappointing? Did you feel like ringing your hand and saying that, well there ought to be a substantial, material topic? How can the topic be ‘Nothing’? Did that happen? Even ‘Nothing’ arouses a certain curiosity; it has a certain pull, a certain charm.
What is it that happens to the mind when it hears the word – ‘Nothing’? When the mind first hears the word ‘Nothing’, it is just language. A word in the language has come to the mind, the word is ‘Nothing’. The specialty of this word is that unlike other words, it does not point at something substantial, something positive, rather it points at only at an absence, there is nothing. And ‘Nothing’ means that, which usually won’t be there. What is it that is usually there? We are talking life, as we always do. We are not talking some high flowing, esoteric spiritual concepts. We are talking life. The life that you and me, everybody experiences.
What is it that is usually there? What is the something that we keep experiencing? What is it?
AP: Words, thoughts and…? What is it that we usually keep experiencing?
AP: Consciousness. Could you make it simpler for us? What exactly is consciousness?
Could I say, it is a feeling of existence? Consciousness is just a feeling that something exists and consciousness is a feeling that I exist. I exist and the world exists. Is that not consciousness?
So, the mind is usually full of something and that something is the world. It could be a tree, it could be a man, it could be a memory, it could be money, it could be the president of the country, it could be the next soccer game. That is ‘something’ that the mind is full of, right?
But, we just saw that even as the mind is full of something, ‘Nothing’ has an attraction and ‘Nothing’ by definition cannot be something, at least by definition. ‘Something’ is our world. The moment we hear ‘Nothing’, there is a certain attraction in it, a call. It teases, but at the same time, it invites. Now, this is quite interesting. This is something that we could be fully attentive to. We live in something and that something is large, very large, the entire universe, the whole cosmos, the entire expanse of the mind.
We live in something but the moment you hear ‘Nothing’, you cannot ignore it. Oh! You may curse it. You may even call it names, you may abuse it but you cannot remain indifferent to it. Imagine, if you ask someone, “Sir, what do you think of me?” and the fellow says, “Nothing.” Would you take it with poise? Would you take it calmly? This answer is worse than being told that I think that you are an idiot. If the other one says that “I think sir that you are an idiot,” you can probably tolerate the answer. But if the other one says, “I do not think of you. I think Nothing of you.” It is unbearable.
So, ‘Nothing’ holds a certain importance in whichever way. ‘Nothing’ calls, not as something extra. Not as another something but as an absence of everything that the mind is full of; and a while back we said: “The mind is full of the world.” So, the call of Nothing is actually a call away from the world. That is the reason why the word “Nothing” is so significant. Why words like “Nowhere,” “No one”appears so mystical.?
We have come across all this. You are here in Tiruvannamalai, and this is a spiritual center. So, you keep coming across such things, don’t you? The aim of all spiritual practice is to become ‘No-one’ and it appears so charming-becoming “Nobody,” becoming ‘No-one’. Or, attaining to your ‘Nothingness’ nature; finding that you always were ‘No-one’. So, there is no need of becoming. It all appears so attractive. Do you see the genesis of this attraction? ‘Nothing’ is nothing, so how can it attract? If ‘Nothing’ is really nothing then it cannot attract, because attraction by definition is towards an object and ‘Nothing’ means no object.
So, the pull of ‘Nothing’ is just the repulsion that we experience from the world. ‘Something’ makes us suffer. So, the moment we hear ‘Nothing’, ‘Nobody’, ‘Nowhere’, “No-one’, we feel hopeful. We are drawn towards that. When something, which is everything, when ‘something’ which is our world, so everything-everything that we live in ordinarily when ‘something’ only means stress, division, violence, worries, strives, chasing, when ‘Something’ means this, then ‘Nothing’ will obviously become attractive. So, ‘Nothing’ calls. We say the topic of this talk is ‘Nothing’ and it is not a bad topic at all. You would want to listen, you would not protest. But what happens next?
Even though ‘Nothing’ calls, but when we come across ‘Nothing’ — ‘Nothing’ meaning nothing, a total absence of that which usually is. But, when we actually came across ‘Nothing’ it is not pleasant at all. So, the topic of the talk might be ‘Nothing’ but you want something to be said about ‘Nothing’. Nothing about ‘Nothing’ won’t do. Now, that would be irritating, that would even be humiliating. Do you see what we are doing? We are saying ‘something’ about ‘Nothing’. So, ‘Nothing’ attracts us but it attracts us only to not remain “Nothing.” That is what we do to ‘Nothingness’. You learn. Well! A possibility of ‘Nowhere’ is there and you come and what is it that you inquire? You say, “How can I reach nowhere?”
You learned that it is a great thing, a spiritual thing to become a ‘Nobody’ and you say, “Wow! it sounds so nice. I feel drawn.” And then what is it that you inquire, “How can I become nobody?”
So, That which we are, and that is our consciousness, our own world. This something, this, that which we are, this ‘I’-something, everything is drawn towards ‘Nothing’ only to touch and spoil the ‘Nothing’. It comes to ‘Nothing’ but it cannot tolerate it. It comes to ‘Nothing’ but it cannot surrender to it. So, what does it do? It tries to fill up this ‘Nothing’ with something and what is this something? “Itself.”
‘Nothing’ is holiness, ‘Nothing’ is sacred, ‘Nothing’ is wonderful, but the moment I will come to ‘Nothing’, the moment I will come to that emptiness, zeroness, I will fill it up with what I am. I will not change. I will not dissolve because to really come in contact with emptiness is to become empty. Otherwise, you have not come in contact with emptiness. If you are still full, then how are you in contact with empty?
So, we will say “I will retain that which I am and yet get a taste of that Nothing. I will remain what I am.”
The whole thing gets defeated. Nothing’ calls and that call is not an arranged call. It is a surrendipititious call. Just from nowhere, the call of Nothing comes and we go. We go only to spoil that which called. The whole thing is lost.
Do you see what is it that might be happening in the name of spiritual seeking? Do you see what is it that might be happening in Rishikesh, in Varanasi, in Tiruvannamalai? Yes! Something beyond us calls and we go-physically at least. But when we reach there, we reach with ourselves. And we want to bring ourselves back intact. Not only intact but enriched. “If we hold a certain respectability, the respectability must remain.”
What is it that is implied by ‘Nothing’? We are recalling. It is not something new, it is not something over and above in addition to your usual world. ‘Nothing’ means a dropping. ‘Nothing’ means getting rid of. But, getting rid of who you are, is not at all on the agenda, not at all.
My whole itinerary, my whole process of seeking must be according to who I am. And who am I? I am exactly the one who is so tired of being what he is, that he is attracted towards Nothingness. To be attracted towards Nothingness is to be tired of who you are. That is exactly the reason why someone, a European, a western like you comes to India. You come here because there is something that you just can’t bear. But that which you cannot bear is not outside of you, is within you. You carried it within yourself, you bring it here as well and not only are you not prepared to drop it, you are ever so ready to paint Nothingness in your own colors – the same colors that do not let you live, the same colors that make you feel sick and nauseatic. Is that all right? Do you want to continue with that?
Is the whole process of trying ever going to work? If I ask you “What is the difference between a tourist and a sincere seeker, what would you say?” Sir, if I ask you what is the difference between a tourist, who comes to visit the Taj Mahal and a sincere seeker? What is the difference?
L: The seeker wants to change himself and the tourist is not.
AP: The tourist is not. When the tourist goes back, he wants his world intact because he does not even have a realization that he does not quite like his world. But the sincere seeker knows very well that he is here because there was something in his world that troubled him. And if it troubled him how can he want his world intact? To want his world intact is to want his troubles intact. The sincere seeker will not say that I want to return to the same place. I want to return to the same mindset, I want to return to the same friends, same circle, same kind of relationship. Will he say that?
But, if we are very particular about maintaining and preserving that, which we have and that, which we are, are we really seekers? Seekers or tourist, realization or entertainment; what is the definition of entertainment? Anything that excites the mind and the excitement of the mind is not the dissolution of the mind. Mind likes entertainment, mind likes excitement. The ego can only like that which helps and feeds the ego. The troubled one, the one that you do not like, the one that you want to get rid of, that troubled one decided where you would go, whom would you meet, which are the big places, which are the right people? Right?
All the decision taken by the troubled one would only be decisions of even more trouble. Will they help you? Or, will help come from a source, from a point that you do not plan and you cannot even expect. You are in India for let’s say – a month. And you know the bright spots, you know the important dates, you know the big places, you know where you are likely to get redemption. You know all of that. You know all of that just as you know everything else about your life, don’t you? Is that not how we operate?
Just as we know what is good for us, just as we know where to work, just as we know to whom to relate, just as we know how to spend our time, just as we know how to be enlightened, just as we know how to not get hurt, just as we know how to take all the right decisions, similarly we also know what to do in India.
Unfortunately, for us, the fact of our life is, we are in India precisely to admit that we don’t know anything. Had you really known, you would have been in peace. You would have not needed to roam here and there. You are here only because deep within you know that you do not know. And if you do not know then must you decide your itinerary? Must you insist how would you approach the whole game? Must you play the game? Or would you rather let the game, play you? But that is so difficult, right?
Playing the game, even with changed rules is acceptable because you remain the player but to let the game, play you is so very difficult. I am asking, “It is Rishikesh, or Puru, or Dharamshala, or Kedarnath, or Shirdi, or Pudducherry, do they really help?” Was it not decided by your own troubled consciousness that these are the important places? Have we really ever known what is really important? And if we have not known what is really important, how do we know that a Pryag, or Varanasi is important? How do we know that? Yes?
In your bid to decide on your own, you have only landed in troubles. And again when ‘Nothing’ calls, you respond to it with something which is ‘you’. Even to Nothing, you cannot come naked. You want to carry your clothes. We are talking about us. We are talking about our life, we are not talking about some other world. Are we? We are talking about this, that we are living. So, what are you seeing? What are you thinking? It’s your life. What to do when that ‘Nothing’ calls? What to do? Because whatever we will do, it is certain we will do as something, as somebody. Right?
And the moment that happens, everything is spoiled? So, what to do? What to do?
Not to do.
How do you respond when ‘Nothing’ calls?
L: With an action.
AP: With some action. Whose action? Your own. And that spoils everything, again.
How to respond when Nothing calls? It does call, right? It has a strange attraction. How to respond? All right! if you will respond, things will go bad. So, just as ‘Nothing’ called without your planning, without your eligibility, let ‘Nothing’ respond as well. Seems nice to hear that only Nothing knows how to respond to Nothing and only Nothing is attracted to Nothing.
Just as you called, you also made me walk. Otherwise, it would be unjust of you to call me but not help me walk. Just as you called, only you must also tell where am I to come? Had the caller belonged to my world, had the call been from ‘something’ then I could have taken the decision. But, if the call is from ‘Nothing’, then the response cannot be mine. I have to let things happen. And that happening, remember, may not get the sanction of who you are.
Chances are, ‘that’ which you take yourself to be, will strongly resist the happening. Just as the disease resist the medicine. Afterall, it was to get away from yourself that you liked ‘Nothing’. Otherwise, you couldn’t have liked ‘Nothing’. Had ‘something’ given you that which you really are and really are seeking, you would not have felt any attraction to Nothing.
So, ‘Nothing’ by definition will be a dissolution of that which you are. It will not like a free response. It will not like a response emanating from Nothingness. It will say, “No! You proceed as per your plans. You came with a schedule. You came in control of your days. You came with your advanced bookings you must stick to them.” But, if you are sticking to everything that has been pre-decided, you are only sticking to yourself.
Why you act as a little foolish? Because it was to get rid of yourself that you came here in the first place. You are coming here to drop yourself and having come here you are doing everything that would preserve you. That is self-defeating. That is not going to help. Or, is it? This is not academics. This is not distant. This is not about somebody else’s life. You are not judging others. You are not reading somebody else’s thesis. You are not marking your students, you are talking about ‘you’, that one life that you are so attached to, that one life that you are so identified with.
What do you want to say? And it is not as if you do not want to say anything? The very fact that you are present here in India and are taking all the troubles to move around, go around, bearing all the costs, making all the investment, is the proof that you have a lot to say. For your own sake, having come so close, don’t miss. You wouldn’t have come had ‘Nothing’ not called. Now that ‘Nothing’ has called, let ‘Nothing’ take possession of you. Bow down. Otherwise, it would be so tragic. It would be a classic case of ‘So near, yet so far’, “Came close! Came close! Came close! And yet…? Missed.”
Now whether you just miss or whether you totally miss, the fact is that you have missed. And this missing would hurt all the more. Firstly, because you tried, you wanted and secondly, because you almost hit. You are almost there.
Why must a woman remain a woman? Why must a man remain a man? Why must a professor remain a professor? Why must a mother remain a mother? Then it is just Taj Mahal. Come on! Not bad at all. But then you ought to be in Agra, not to be in Tiruvannamalai.
The professor is saying, “I will remain professorish.” I have a certain social standing, I have a certain repute.’ ‘Oh! My respectability! It must not be stained.’
I mean not be so childish. We know better than that, don’t we? You didn’t come all the way here to carry back even more of the same garbage that you are already carrying. Or, did you do that for this? Now, at this point, “Nothing” is no more cool, at this point, “Nothing” is no more charming. Now, ‘Nothing’ is dangerous.
From a distance, it called and it was like the mythical flute of Krishna. You felt like coming close, coming close.
‘Oh! India. ‘Oh! India. ‘Oh! India.’
And you thought India was a piece of land and you thought India was a few cities, a few temples, a few ashrams? India is none of that. India is dangerous. India is the beginning and the end and the end comes before the beginning. ‘Ah! That is dangerous.’
‘Can I have a few beginnings without ever ending?’
Yeah! Sure. You can take as many you want. Keep beginning again and again. But remember you would only be beginning more of yourself; the same yourself that you are not really fond of. The end must come before the beginning.
Would you be prepared to meet Shiva, in any rock? And if you are not prepared to do that, then Arunachala is not Shiva. Arunachala is you, your language, an object in your consciousness, a very insignificant and ordinary hillside that you have painted as important. And if Shiva is to be met in any rock, then you cannot decide which particular rock. You have to let Shiva decide it for you. Is that not why you keep missing Shiva? He comes to you in forms that you are not prepared for.
Yes, ma’am, something you want to say?
L: I see that there is always this ‘me’ that responds. There is always the actor, the doer that always remains.
AP: Because it is the doer that wants satisfaction. You see, if you come to India to seek anything, then ultimately what you are seeking is satisfaction. There is a desire and the desire demands its fulfillment; satisfaction. Till the time you are the one seeking satisfaction, then remember not only you want to be satisfied, you also want to know that you are satisfied. Are you getting it?
Mind obtains pleasure not from the happening but from the thought that the happening has happened. So, as long as you are seeking, you would remain. That, which you are seeking is only for the one who has already obtained it.
Who is the one who gets it? The one who never lost it.
The one who feels that he has lost it never gets it. The one who feels that Nothing has been lost and since Nothing has been lost so there is no need to think. So he is totally silent about the matter. He is the one who continued to remain silent and hence gets it because ultimately silence is what you want.
You have to already be there to reach there. Those who travel a lot, they never reach. Those who are already there, they keep reaching again and again and again. But when you are getting it again and again and again, then there is no verification of the happening, then there is no satisfaction in the happening because then there is nobody to tell you that you are accomplishing something. So, now you cannot be proud. Now you cannot say that an achievement has happened.
You wanted to say that you achieved. But, the ones who really achieved are the ones who are continuously in achievement. So, they cannot claim any achievement, which brings us to something interesting.
We do not want salvation. We want the thought that we are salvaged. We do not want enlightenment. We want the thought that we are enlightened. We do not want the Truth. We want the thought that we now have the Truth. So that is the reason why you chase so much, why you miss so much because ultimately you want to have the credit that you succeeded in your chase. You will never succeed.
The one who has it does not feel great about it. That which you really want is very simple, very present, very much within reach, but it is not at all the way you probably imagine it to be. The ones who have it they do not find it special at all.
It is there, all right, nothing special about it. Neither is there anything special about that which is wanted nor are those in any sense special who have it. And that is another reason why you miss them because you are looking for special people and special places and special occasions. You have it and let that remain a secret. The moment you talk about it; the moment you disclose it, the moment you think about it, you have lost it.
It is such a strange thing that “That” which you want is always with you till the time you do not know that it is with you. And when I am saying, “knowing”, I mean the thought of knowing. In your ignorance, it is with you. In your knowledgeability, you lose it.
You know Sir, you are God-seekers. You can give it any name and that is one of the popular name “God.” You are seeking Him here and there. You are seeking Him at places where he was once seen, last seen. The thing is that the whole universe belongs to Him. So, He keeps changing addresses. He might have been once seen here. Are you sure that today He is not somewhere else? Today, He is not everywhere? Sure?
(Referring to the different idols of God in the session hall)
You have a Buddha here, a Natraj here, a Kali here, a Ganpati here, why? Why? Because He loves to wear different clothes. He loves to wear different bodies; – sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, sometimes compassionate, sometimes destructive. Are you sure you know which clothes He is wearing right now? Are you sure, you know which face He is wearing right now? You will miss if you know. When you don’t know, then you instantly recognize. When you know, all you have is memories. It makes you smile. as Nothingness would necessarily do. It would bring a smile to you and what would you do with the smile? You fill something into it and then it evaporates. It’s nowhere.
Let it come forth. Keep smiling. That is the thing with everything that is precious including your smile. If you touch it, it is gone. If you touch your own smile, it becomes a little distorted.
-Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity
Watch the session: Acharya Prashant: Nothing
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