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How to know what one must do?
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
15 min
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Questioner (Q): So, we were talking yesterday, you were mentioning yesterday about liberation is being disassociated with the things around and keep doing what needs to be done but not assign value to stuff in life, give too much importance, to think that there is too much to do. So, generally when one has to choose the work in his life. So, students generally are advised, "Figure out what your passion is, think about what you are so passionate about, do some work while you don’t feel it is a work—you don’t think that you are doing a job, you will do this work even you are not paid. Something you are passionate about." So, disassociation and passion do not seem to go together. For me, I don’t see how passion and disassociation can happen together. So, if I have to choose, for example, the foundation has got a mission, PAF (PrashantAdvait Foundation) has got a mission, you have a mission, you are running, you are doing all this for so many years with a mission. I also understand that like from the example of YouTube channel getting hacked. There could be things happening, you are disassociated to the extent that things won’t hurt you. Like you will keep going on doing your mission. So, without any passion or attachment or assigning a value. I am not able to understand, how do I choose a mission for my life? How do I know what should I be doing? Like for my life.

Acharya Prashant (AP): There are a few things in this regard. One thing is choosing work under external pressure, which many people do, under the pressure of peers or situations or market forces, or choosing it by dint of just coincidence. One happened to get placed in a particular industry in the campus placement process. It happens so many times, right? One just happens to get placed and then one’s career starts rolling on in that particular direction.

So, that is one thing that happens. Where your career is being determined by so-called external situations. Then there is the other case of your career being determined by your passion. It is just marginally superior a situation compared to the previous one. Because what we call as our inner urge towards a particular work is again something, very, very conditioned.

It is difficult to be born in India and be passionate towards ice hockey. You will have very few kids saying that they want to make Rugby or make Ice Hockey as their career, whereas, so many kids are very passionate about cricket. So, we know where passion comes from; it is not internal. Passion too comes from surroundings. But passion becomes dangerous because it presents itself as if it is something internal. Not only does it present itself as something internal, but it also decorates itself as something of the heart. The fellow will say, "You know, my heart beats for cricket." You must ask him, "Why doesn’t your heart beat for ice hockey?" Just because you had no conditions favorable to ice hockey, you have not been conditioned towards ice hockey; you are conditioned towards cricket because there was cricket on the TV, there was cricket in the journals, on the radio, in the park in front of your house, your elder brother, put a cricket bat in your hand when you were just three years old. You were seeing all these things, and all these things were having an influence on you. The result is you didn’t even get to know when you absorbed and internalized all these things and you’ve started saying, “Well, my heart beats for cricket.” Were you born in Brazil, would your heart still beat for cricket or Russia, let’s say?

So, passion is as much an external thing as, let’s say, peer pressure. Somebody chooses his work or occupation going by market forces or peer pressure or family pressure and then there is someone who says, “I am choosing my passion for my livelihood.” These two are hardly different. Even if one is better than the other, it’s only marginally so.

Then there is a decision that comes from the center of understanding. You realize what is valuable, you realize what is life-affirmative and you find it missing. You find that there is something that needs to be promoted, something that needs to be done. And then you do it not because you want to do it but because you must do it. You don’t do it because it is something quite attractive or remunerative; you do it because it needs to be done. There is no option, it is a call. It is a sacred duty, you cannot avoid it. And only then is the work chosen by you really appropriate. Are you getting it?

These are two words you must be very careful about; want and must. I want to do this thing versus I must do this thing. These are dimensionally different statements. All want is conditioned. Must-ness is an entirely different thing. This must be done and in front of this, it doesn’t matter what I feel, how I think, what my ideals are, what my situations and conditions are. This must be done irrespective of everything. The one who starts living, abiding in this must-ness, starts living in the pinnacle of life. Now, it’s a different zone of existence altogether. Now you have, just silently, achieved all the spiritual goods. Detachment you have achieved, renunciation you have achieved. Witnessing? Yes, you are there. Dispassion? Yes, you are there. Commitment, determination, surrender? Yes. All of them become available to you. All the so-called spiritual goodies. They just come to you in a bunch, as if they are all shadows of must-ness. Where there is must-ness, there is the climate of spiritual benevolence. This must-ness is classically called as Dharma .

Doing not what you desire to do, doing that which you must do. And, that is the only thing that makes all the difference in life. Are you doing something because you desire to do it, or you are doing something because you must do it? And remember this must-ness is not a thing of duty or external pressure or moral responsibility; this must-ness does not come from those places. It’s not about you saying you must help your neighbor, or you must be kind to people, no. Not that kind of must-ness. We aren’t talking moral science here.

It is a very different must-ness; it comes from realization. We said it proceeds from the core of understanding. Having really understood, now a few things become totally unavoidable. Once you know you are helpless, you must do. You may even have a desire to roll back the reel and say, “Well, I don’t know at all. Because I do not know, so I am now free from the obligation of must-ness. But now you know, and you cannot unknow what you know. That is the thing about understanding. If you really understand, then you cannot roll back the process. Once you really understand then you don’t own the understanding, the understanding owns you. Once you are owned by understanding, then obviously your own personal desires hold no value. Now the value belongs to the owner.

Q: How do I know this calling? When will I able to recognize the…?

AP: You have to look at yourself and the world. If everything is perfect, then there need not be anything to do. There is a stain on the wall and fire in the kitchen, both need to be taken care of. And Sweta (one of the listeners) is asking, “But, you know, both need to be taken care of. How do I decide, which one needs to be first?" There is a stain on the wall and there is a fire in the kitchen, everything is burning. Do you need to ask me, which one holds higher importance?

Q: There is a fire in both the rooms.

AP: Then figure out which room has the baby, or you figure out in which room are you trapped in, or you figure out which room has more people, or you figure out which room contains the gas cylinder. That is what is meant by observation. Observe the world and observe yourself, and you will know, what is it that must be done. And then give up the right to un-choose what deserves to be chosen. Once you know what is right, then surrender your right to not choose the right.

If you continue to hold that right, then inevitably at some point, you will use that right and un-chose the right. This is what is meant by surrender. Must-ness necessarily involves surrender.

Q: And I will choose to do it irrespective of whether I believe I will be able to complete it or not because it has to be done.

AP: Yes, yes. It has to be done and I may have a very clear idea that I will not succeed, but it needs to be done. It must be done. I have no option but to do it, irrespective of the situations, irrespective of the conditions, and obviously irrespective of the outcome. And it’s not that I’ll blindly rush into doing it. I have my resources, now I know what needs to be done. I will marshal my resources in the most intelligent way possible. Not that I will blindly present myself for a massacre. Not that I will walk into a slaughterhouse. Getting it? I have intellect, I have memory, I have the capability. I can analyze, I can think, I can plan. All these are gifts available to me, this is my ammunition, and I will use all of this towards that which must be done.

Q2: Pranaam Acharya Ji!

Just in continuation of what she is asking. There are a lot of things which must be done, a lot of things. Now, if the fire is here in this room, or in the neighbor's room, or in the jungles of Amazon, there are several levels. So where should we say, "This must be done!" and where should we say, "I don't care about this one."

AP: Take into account the criticality of the situation and you know that your job is to do something about it and that something is not just a token contribution. It has to be something very meaningful, as effective as you can make it. Weigh in all these things and see how you must start. You know, when you are asking that there are so many things and what is it that needs to be done, I am reminded of the time when Mahatma Gandhi returned from South Africa to India, and he had been in South Africa, at the center of a civil movement for quite a while, almost two decades, more than two decades. In between, he had kept coming to India to attend congress sessions and to visit and these things, but there was not much depth in those visits. So finally, when he left South Africa for good and landed in India in the middle of the second decade of the last century, Gopalkrishna Gokhale told him, "No public life for you for at least one year. Yes, you have been an outstanding leader in South Africa, and you had victories and you have the capability to mobilize people and rally them behind you but no public life in India for you for at least one year. Just abstain, observe, watch, travel, know. First of all, read this country because there are just too many things at too many places. You cannot blindly rush into anything. At the same time, you cannot wait for long Gandhi. You are already in your forties, and you are well equipped to do something. The kind of experience, the repository that you have cannot be allowed to go waste. It must be put in the service of the nation. But it cannot be immediately rushed. So have some kind of a sabbatical for one year." Gandhiji considered Gokhale his teacher and he followed the advice, he just kept studying. He said, "There are so many things happening in this vast land, from Burma till Afghanistan, from Tibet till Lanka." And then he started to get a handle on things. Then came the Champaran movement. It’s not that he had not consciously selected to be in Champaran, that too was kind of an accident. But then, when you are prepared then very seldom accidents happen with you.

Even accidentally, the right things can happen to you, only if you are prepared. So, Gandhi Ji knew that there was something that needs to be done. “But I don’t yet know what needs to be done.” Just like your question. “There are so many things happening everywhere; it’s a very vast country, it’s a subcontinent. What do I put my hand into?” So, he was reading, he was meeting people, he was traveling extensively. He was studying the Indian landscape and then the accident happened. Somebody from a God-forsaken village, a district in Bihar came to him and kept shadowing him and said that, “Such a thing is happening there, and we need you to come and support us and defend our rights. The British masters are forcibly asking us to grow opium on fifteen percent of our land and that is exploitative.” Are you getting it?

If you were serious about the whole thing, what would you do? You would do what he did. You would read, you would meet, you would travel; you would observe, you would be all the time alert. You would want to find out an opportunity. And it’s far easier today, you know; it’s the information age, even travelling is far easier today. At that time, to reach Champaran you had to travel on an elephant back, that’s how Gandhi reached.

Today all these are available, you can fly to the Amazons if you want to. And you don’t need to fly because all the information is available, the videos are there, the perspectives are there. What is it that you want?

So, your sincerity is judged by all the background work that you are doing. You cannot say you want to do good to the world. You cannot say that, for example, you are very concerned with climate change, and you do not know the scientific basis for all that is happening. You cannot just rush into some activity or the other. You cannot be a social media warrior or a placard soldier without knowing the fundamentals. Don’t you want to study the science first? Don’t you want to know what kind of actions are best suited if you want to fight this catastrophe? And if you do not know what action is best suited to fight it, how are you taking any action? I am again asking you with no bias against tree plantation. How do you know that planting tree is the best thing to counter this menace? Do you have the numbers? Without having the numbers why do you want to offer a nominal service to the cause? Must you not, first of all, study the UN reports, and there are so many other organizations keeping a watch over the climate. Should you not take out time, to go through those reports and know what the whole thing is really about? Or you just want to be a do-gooder, a society man? It is often fashionable to do all these things.

Study and then act with total commitment and determination. If your action is founded on the basis of understanding, then your action becomes irreversible. But if your action is coming from some flimsy point, then such action has no momentum. It doesn’t have longevity, because it doesn’t have sincerity, really.

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