Acharya Prashant is dedicated to building a brighter future for you
How is Vedanta different from self-help? || NIT Jamshedpur (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
8 min
43 reads

Questioner (Q): There are hundreds of self-help books published every year that tell us how to live in a better way. What makes Vedantic teachings distinct from those self-help books?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Self-help books, in general, want to help the self without investigating into what the self really is. So, in the name of self-help, what is usually advised is gratification of the self. The self is taken as a fundamental and unchangeable entity not to be questioned, and the entire purpose of the book, then, is to remove the obstacles in the path of gratification of that self that has been turned into a sacred entity.

So, the self has certain desires, and the book will tell you how to fulfill all your desires and dreams. And you will say, “Yes, this is what I want, and the book is telling me how to get that thing.” The book will never, or rarely, ask you, “What is it that you want? Where are your wants coming from? Are your desires even yours?” Now, these are tough questions; these are unsettling questions. People don’t want to go into them because if you go into these questions, then your basic identity is challenged; your very sense of existence is interrogated. And we don’t like that because it disturbs.

You see, our disposition is such that we would rather have false security than a true exploration of the truth. Even if we know that we are living in false concepts, we would choose that falseness because there is comfort in that. We are used to living in a false way for a long time; that central falseness itself is called as the self. What else is self? In self-help, ‘self’ obviously cannot pertain to the Truth because the Truth does not require any help; ‘self’ surely pertains to the ego. It is the ego that is always quite helpless and seeking support and help and stuff of all kinds.

So, this entity that you are seeking to help is actually not requiring help; it is in need of dissolution. Or you could say that the only way to help it is by calling out its falseness. Even if you want to help the ego, you cannot help the ego by furthering its desires or giving it a hope that its dreamed way of life is indeed feasible and beneficial. That is not the way to help the ego. The way to help the ego is to enable it to see the truth, which practically means seeing its own falseness. That is a difficult thing to do, and this thing pleases nobody.

Since this approach pleases nobody or very few people, therefore the self-help book won’t really sell if it takes the right approach. But the author surely wants a bestseller, so he would say those things that the people are more amenable to accept, and then the book would be selling a million copies.

Self-help is very, very far removed from all spirituality, obviously, including Vedanta. Vedanta explores the ‘I’ to dissolve it, whereas self-help in general extends and inflates the ‘I’ and tries to provide it a certain validation.

You would have realized by now that the process of self-help is fundamentally opposed to the spiritual process. The spiritual process says, “What is the point in running after my desires if I do not know myself? If I do not know myself, then whose desires am I chasing? Are my desires even my own?” That is the approach of spirituality. The approach of self-help, I am repeating, is: “I am sad because my desires have not met fulfillment. So, the way to help myself is to fulfill desires.” It is a dimensional difference.

Therefore, self-help pleases but does not help; it is not self-help then. That genre should be more correctly called self-gratification. And if you want self-gratification, as we all do, then there are so many means and ways available—people entertain themselves; people drink; people move to narcotics; people go high on money, on power; people look for carnal pleasures. These are all ways in which we try to help the self by fulfilling its desires. Unfortunately, these ways don’t work.

So, self-help is attractive but not beneficial. It is great that you are juxtaposing Vedanta against self-help. Go to Vedanta. That is where you will find rigorous self-inquiry. That is where you will find freedom from the sufferings of the self.

Q: What were the mistakes made by our ancestors that led to the invasions and colonial rule by the Mughals, the British, and other foreign powers in the past thousand years. What can we learn from those mistakes so that the same thing does not happen again? Is it true that presently we are still under their rule in a different sense?

AP: You see, there is only one mistake for a human being: to not realize your internal stuff and remain a slave to it. That is where all weakness comes from, that is why we were defeated in most of the battles we fought over the last ten centuries, and that is also the reason why, as people, we are not progressing fast enough even today.

Man is nothing without wisdom. Weapons don’t win wars; even if weapons manage to win you a few battles, it is wisdom that wins wars. And wisdom wins wars in very subtle ways. You lose wisdom and somebody might declare you a world winner, but you will still be a loser. The tragedy first takes place internally, and then its effects manifest themselves externally in all ways possible.

See, because man is special, because man is not like any other animal—when I say man I mean human beings, not excluding women—therefore man needs spirituality. I could have said religion, but ‘religion’ has become a very abused word today, so I would rather say spirituality or wisdom.

So, we need spirituality. That is the center of our existence—our religiosity, our wisdom. It has to be. If we lack that then we lack a center itself, and if there is no center, there is no power because you are scattered. What would you say about a motorcycle rim that has no axis at all, no center at all? Would the spokes offer any strength? The center is needed to keep the thing intact and strong.

Man needs a center. That center is wisdom; that center is religiosity or spirituality. When religion itself gets contaminated, then there is nothing that can save you.

The trouble with India has been that religion got contaminated many a times, remained contaminated, and even today it is extremely contaminated. And that is why you find lack of strength in various fields in the Indian population. The core of wisdom, the very name of wisdom, Vedanta, was there, always there; the very essence of religion was always present, but along with it much else was also present. Unfortunately, we chose to focus on all the garbage around the core and more or less totally ignored the core. In the name of religion, all that we patronized was hollow practices, empty rituals, discrimination based on birth and gender, imaginative stories, and many other kinds of nonsense. That is what we started calling as religion, and the core, Vedanta, was ignored.

When religion gets corrupted, then the entire population, the whole set of people, are left with nothing. They lose their scientific temper, there are no discoveries. No literature worth reading is written. There is no exploration; they don’t want to go around and know things. They remain a society deeply divided, fragmented, and exploitative of each other, and then they also lose wars. Losing wars is not the central problem. The central problem is the corruption of religion, and that corruption of religion leads to many problems, including losses in wars. And that corruption is especially tragic because India is the mother of religion.

India had all the diamonds that religion needs and religion has to offer. The saints, the sages, they offered the highest wisdom. But instead of that wisdom, we just kept concentrating on very deplorable kind of rubbish—and that is also what constitutes the bulk of Indian religiosity today: rubbish. Instead of religion being the highest thing possible, it has become the lowest kind of curse.

Unless we return to pure religion, which I propagate as Vedanta, not only is the past bleak—I also see very little hope for the future.

Have you benefited from Acharya Prashant's teachings?
Only through your contribution will this mission move forward.
Donate to spread the light
View All Articles