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The real way to deal with dependency || IIT Bombay (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
12 min
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Questioner: Sir, how to overcome emotional dependency and loneliness?

Acharya Prashant: First of all, there are not several types of dependencies. These types are very superficial. We might say, “I have material dependency, I have financial dependency, I have physical dependency, I have emotional dependency, I have spiritual dependency, dependency’s dependency.” Who is dependent?

All dependency comes from the fundamental sense of incompleteness of the ‘I’. We are born feeling that something is not quite right about us. Even the newborn baby carries that deep belief—obviously not consciously—and it is that sense of imperfection or incompleteness that drives us through life. That is what makes most people do whatever they do in their lifetimes.

So, we acquire knowledge, we acquire social certification, we get into several kinds of relationships; we procreate, we amass wealth, we do this, do that, build a house, build a mausoleum for ourselves, we do all these things. Fundamentally, why do we do any or all of these things? Because we are not convinced that we are alright.

The ‘I’-tendency is a raging dissatisfaction against itself.

“I am greatly dissatisfied.”

With whom?

“With my own being, with my own existence. I am not okay. Why am I not okay? Don’t ask me that. I am born like that!”

Has something occurred to you to make you feel that you are not alright?

“No. I have occurred to myself, and that is what makes me feel that I am not alright. Not that some event has happened to me, the event that has happened is me, ‘me’ meaning my birth. Not that something has happened to me and is making me feel bad about myself, no. The event of my existence itself makes me feel bad about myself. I am born feeling bad about myself. I am born feeling hungry and dissatisfied. When I was born, I cried.”

That is the human condition. “Why am I here?”—that is the first thing that occurs to the kid, the newborn infant. “Why am I here? What did I do to deserve this?”

What did the newborn ask mommy?

“Now, who did this?”


And now you know what we spend our entire life, the rest of our life for: we spend it trying to overcome the botched-up work that we are. It is like this: “I am the output of something quite shoddy; it needs to be amended, corrected, rectified.” And our entire lifetimes are just a desperate attempt at rectification. “I am born incorrect, I have to take care of myself.” And there is ample proof to show that we are born incorrect, obviously we are. Don’t teach the child language, and the child would have an underdeveloped mind. The human child requires almost two decades of education.

Look at the amount of effort that goes into the rectification. Even before you can really step out into the world, you require two decades of training. So, obviously you are not born alright, right? Some part of it is biological, and the other part is social. Your hands extend only this much (stretches his hand 180 degrees) ; your eyes can see only this much; your memory is limited to this much; your intellect is only this sharp and no more. So, all this is biological incompleteness or imperfection.

And then there is the social sense of imperfection that is imposed upon you. You have a particular color or ethnicity or nationality. So, you are probably not alright or a little bit alright, but nothing about your nationality or color or gender or ethnicity can make you fully alright. Even if you belong to the most developed of countries, there would be somebody prepared to point at something obnoxious about your country. So, you take that in: “Okay, I am not alright for this reason, I am not alight for that reason.”

And that is what leads to both of these things that you are mentioning in your question, loneliness and dependency. Loneliness fundamentally means: “Add something to me, make something sit next to me, affix something to me, glue me to something, superimpose something on me, magnify me. Without that addition, without that amplification, I am not okay, I am not good enough.” It is not as if that is something that specifically happens to you when you are twenty-six; you are born with this feeling.

Again, go back to the infant. It does not see her mother for two hours and starts wailing—is that not loneliness? And it is not something sexual, as you might be misled into believing being a twenty-six years old. It is just that even if you are just twenty-six days old, you still require the warmth of a human body next to you; otherwise, you know, you start… (wails in a desperate tone)

That is what is born—loneliness and dependency. And it will continue. May you live till 126—you will find that loneliness still haunts you, the same kind of loneliness that you experienced when you were twenty-six days old.

So, the disease is deeper than we think. We feel, “Oh, it is about a young person probably looking for a friend or a mate.” No, no, no. It is an existential problem. We are lonely because we exist . We are dependent—why? Because we exist.

How to challenge this problem, then? Then you will have to exist in a different way altogether. Right now what exists is the body-identified and socially-identified ego. That is what is born. Thankfully, thankfully, an alternative exists. The option to live not as the ego but as something beyond the ego exists.

And if that option doesn’t exist, then life is absurd. Then, as the absurdists would say, or rather question, “Why live at all? Is life worth it?” And surely life is not worth living if there is no possibility of freedom from the ego, right? If there is no possibility of freedom from the ego, then every passing day is just another twenty-four hour experience in servility and anxiety and slavery and depression, right? And not only are you experiencing that frustration today, you know very well that this frustration is your fate for all days to come.

Then, as many have said and done, suicide appears the best option. If life offers no possibility of liberation from the pain called ego, then why live at all? But, as we said, thankfully that possibility is very much there. Only when you exercise that possibility is freedom from dependency and loneliness possible; and that is a deeper exercise.

The shallow way is to fight loneliness through distraction. And if you distract yourself in a thousand ways, then you can keep loneliness at bay at least for a certain time. You could go to a beer bar and spend a few hours with your friends, and you are no more lonely. Are you lonely in that duration? You are not. Or, you could watch the highlights of the last world cup soccer, pretending that you don’t know the score line. “Oh my God! Who is going to win?” Or, you could do a thousand other cute and stupid things to keep you busy. That is the shallow way of negotiating with loneliness, dependency, etc. And I am talking of them in the same breath, they are much the same thing.

The real way is to know that as long as we continue to feed our false sense of self, we are condemning ourselves to more and more loneliness, more and more dependency, and we are necessitating, therefore, more and more of antidepressant material. An antidepressant is not merely a pill; an antidepressant is much more like a visit to the shopping mall, or waiting for the Friday release. That is an antidepressant.

Clinically, only a small proportion of people are depressed; existentially, we are all born depressed. So, there are some who have been diagnosed with depression, and there are some who are asymptomatically depressed, but depressed we all are without doubt. Except for the liberated ones, we all are depressed. In some cases depression has shown up, erupted in full ferocity. In other cases, depression is lying latent, hidden, waiting for the right time to raise its fangs.

So, I would invite you to come to Vedanta; I will invite you to go to all the fundamental spiritual scriptures. Come to Kapila Rishi, come to Kanada Rishi, come to Krishna. And you are born in a Jain family; come to Kundakunda, come to Mahavira, to Parshvanatha. They all are there for you. They were people with a lot of love, and they have ensured that their bodily absence doesn’t enfeeble their mission. They have left behind rich and voluminous scriptures and accounts, questions and teachings. And there is a higher pleasure in being with them.

Once you develop the taste of being with a Krishna or a Mahavira, you will forget all this loneliness and dependency business, because loneliness cries for a person just like you or an activity in your own dimension. That is what loneliness and dependency cry for, right? When you have the company of these geniuses, then you feel fulfilled. Then, in fact, not only are you not lonely or dependent; actually a lot of filth from your life is expunged. Forget about you saying, “Who else can be added to my life?” The question changes: the question says, “Now, who all are unnecessarily still present in my life?”

From an instinct towards addition, you find that you are now more concerned towards liberation, negation, purification. You don’t want to bring in more people into your life. Now you rather want to purify yourself of the people or things or concepts that are already in your life. You are not adding now, you are actually subtracting. You are subtracting actually, because now your space has been occupied by somebody quite large, immense. That somebody is not a person; that somebody is just somebody. But He is quite voluminous, expansive, immense.

And to make space for Him—He is not a male, but I have to use some word, so I am using this—but to make space for Him, you have to evict all the nonsense, all the clutter that is sitting upon your precious mind space. So, you just tell all of them to leave: “Leave, leave! There is somebody else I want to be with.”

This is the opposite of loneliness. In loneliness, you are looking at the world with desperate eyes: “Somebody please give me company! Somebody, somebody, please, please, please!” In the state I am talking of, you are looking at yourself and asking, “How the hell I have allowed these two rats to still be present in my room? My room is almost completely empty of all kinds of pests now. There used to be a pest called that dude, there used to be a pest called my BFF, there used to be a pest called my distant cousin. And they were all of these occupying my room and my mental space, and I have shooed all of them away, rather most of them away. But these two little rats, they are still jumping around, attracting my attention. One is my ex, who keeps talking to me on Instagram some days; the other is this new contender, who keeps sending me these occasional feelers, ‘Hey, which brand of coffee do you like?’ What? You doing a cookery course or something? So, these two rats are still left to be pushed out.”

So, you see the whole thing has drastically changed. From being a beggar in front of the world, now you are asking the world to keep away. Isn’t that a position of power, immense power? Not that you have become a world hater or something; it is just that now you have learned discretion. Now you know who should be allowed in the sanctity of your room. Your room is a sacred place, is it not? Do you allow all kinds of rats and lizards and cockroaches to populate it, do you? By the way, I have nothing against lizards; I have twenty-six of them in my room. But here, when I say lizard and cockroach, then you know what I mean, right?

Bring the big ones in. Without them life is anyway not worth living.

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