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There is no God or Atma within you || Acharya Prashant (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
16 min
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Questioner (Q): So I had your advice and I got some books in terms of getting different perspectives. It might be a bit weird in a way question but I kind of wonder, when people are praying for God somewhere and also you're mentioning something about the myth of the God and I still can't grasp how you can visualize Brahman , God, whatever you can call it, inside of you being part and not being somewhere outside. Because for me I wouldn't say I'm a strong Christian in a way but whenever there are bad times or something you would pray but you would pray somewhere outside. Where in some of the Vedanta books they would mention that once one realizes that the Atman is also the Brahman — how to realize it in a way?

Acharya Prashant (AP): The question is, how is it possible to visualize God or Truth or the ultimate within oneself? The questioner says that she has been brought up in the tradition of visualizing God, if at all visualization has to happen outside of herself, the Christian way. But then she says that she has read in some of the Vedanta books that, because there is identity between Atman and Brahman , so God is within you because Atma is within you. Atma is within you, Brahm is God and Atman is the same as Brahm. So, by implication, God too is within you. So the questioner says that she's not finding it easy to reconcile this.

At no point does Vedant say that the Atma is within you. It is a gross miss interpretation, misunderstanding. There are the two principal paths. Looking within is primarily a feature of the path of knowledge Gyan Marg . And when you look within, it is not the Truth that you look at. When you look within, it is always your falseness and ignorance that you encounter. That's why the path of knowledge is the path of negation: Neti, Neti (neither this, nor that)

You look at everything that you can find within yourself. You look at it, scrutinize it closely and ask, “Is this the ultimate? Is this final, timeless, ever-reliable, never changing and the inevitable? And the obvious answer every time is, “No, this is not that.” You look at your thoughts, emotions, deeply held beliefs, ideologies, identities, relationships, possession, your entire knowledge, past, future and hopes from the future, and ruthlessly question. You do not just accept anything because it happens to be present in your own mind.

The path of knowledge is a path that requires tremendous honesty and the result of that honesty is a foregone conclusion. Whatever you look at with honesty just loses its charm, not that you intend that to happen. Your intention is probably to come upon something that is beautiful tremendous, magnificent, worth laying down your life for, but that does not quite happen. Maybe things have their sheen, their aura from a distance, maybe as long as you are ignorant about something it continues to enthrall you, but the closer you get to it, the more disappointed with it you are. That's the path of realization—you negate, negate and negate.

Finally, what is left? Obviously, everything that could be the subject of negation has now been put aside, so now you are left with only that which was negating. We said it requires honesty to look within, inquire and negate. But then there is still somebody who is wearing the mantle of honesty and with the sword of realization is hacking down everything within. This is the final trace of ego that is left. And this ego, once it has exhausted everything else, finally disappears under the watch of its own honesty. So, did you find God within? Well, no, all you are left with is a void within. There is nothing that is found. All that was to be found was hacked down into pieces.

When does Vedant say that if you look within you will find God? At no place is it said. When you say, “Within,” within what? This sack of skin? When you say, “Within,” you surely mean some special arrangement within which you are trying to peep. That could be either the body or the mind. Are we trying to assert that the Atman is something that has special proportions?— Only then it can be contained within something in space. Similarly, when you say that the Atman is within you, you probably must realize that you are saying that you are bigger than the Atman . Any envelope has to be larger than the thing that it contains. Right?

So, what are we saying? We are saying, “I am big,” and when I say, “I am big,” I'm referring to the ego, the little self. “I am big and the Atman is within me so that Atman is smaller than me.”

All this talk of ‘my Atma’ or a personal self is pure ego nothing else. And when I say, ‘pure,’ I do not mean in sense of acceptance or affirmation. When I say, ‘pure ego’ I mean much the same as pure poison. Are you getting it? No, Vedant does not say that Atma is within you.

Atma is that which cannot be contained in anything. Atma is that which does not even pervade space. Atma is that which you cannot even think of, talk of, not even imagine, so how can then Atma be contained within you? Getting it? So, no, Vedant does not say that Atma is within you.

Whenever the Truth is to be visualized, the visualization is always done in all humility outside of yourself. And therefore, the form that is given to Truth is kept as fantastic and para-human as possible. The underlying idea is, first of all, Truth cannot be within me for I am so full of falseness. Secondly, even if the Truth is outside of me, it cannot look like me. So even if I am to represent it as a statue, as a picture, as an image through words through any kind of artistic expression then the expression has to be a little transcendental. Now you know why you have so many myths attached to those who have come to represent godliness. Those myths are deliberate, those myths were intended to keep the ego in check.

If the supreme Truth were to be represented as an ordinary mortal—and that could be done, not that there would be something fundamentally or technically wrong with that, that could be done but—then that might give the ego a good shot of nutrition. “See, that's the final Truth and that looks so much like me. And if the Truth looks so much like me why can't I be the ultimate?” That's why, in India, you have deities with eight hands, forty heads, doing all kinds of unusual abnormal if not paranormal things. Obviously, those who conceptualized all that knew a bit about the basic laws of science and anatomy and genetics, but all that was deliberate.

So, God as an idea is helpful only if it helps you look at yourself. And that is the purpose of spirituality, not to attain God so much but to look honestly at yourself. Attainment of God is just a technique to dissolve the ego. God then, is not so much of a Truth but actually a method. God is not the end; the end is dissolution of ego. The idea of God is a method, it's a trick, it's a way. It helps drill some humility into us, nothing more than that.

Where does the whole thing called spirituality gain its relevance from? Why is any human endeavour relevant at all? Why do we act? Why do we seek? Why do we read? Because we are restless, because we are not complete within and because there is a certain discontentment from the status quo. Right? Therefore, spirituality has to be about looking at oneself because it is the little self, the ego, that is not alright with itself and clamouring for attention. Openly declaring that it is sick. If there is a patient that needs attention, would you care for the patient or would you start worshiping the deity of health? Tell me please.

Unfortunately, a lot of spirituality has turned into a neglect of the patient and a worship of the deity of health. And the more you worship the deity of health, the more it enables you to neglect the patient for a little more while. If the deity of Health was conceptualized, it was merely to remind the patient that his current condition is not his destiny. That health is possible and the proof of Health is there on the wall in the form of a picture or the table in the form of a book of description or in the temple in the form of a marvelous deity. Those things were there just to enable the patient to go into himself and be healed.

Remember, God as such, especially in Vedant is not a reality, but a very, very useful idea. And Brahm that you talked of is not God. God, in the normal usage, is the counterpart of Ishwar (God). It's very, very simple if you go into pure Vedant . It's very simple if you go to the mother scriptures. But if you occupy yourself with reading commentaries then there is a possibility of confusion.

Q: Even if you are saying the same thing, you cannot know something more. Even in your book you're saying, “You cannot know more than what you know already.” So, if I'll be reading there only what my mind will grasp is what I already know, how would I know something more from the scripture?

AP: At least the scripture will tell you the limits of your knowing. And once you come to that know once you come to that, then your confidence in your knowledge—and right now, even right now, you are quite confident about your knowledge—drops and that exactly is what is needed. Even this assertion—“How can I know more than what I know?”—is quite a confident assertion.

Q: It's not what I'm saying. It was in your book.

AP: How do you know in what context was I saying that? That's why books are just an invitation, you have to come over and sit here. The book has done its job, you're here now. So, don't quote the book anymore.

It's not that the stuff is terribly difficult to comprehend. What is difficult is, when you try to reconcile this with what you already believe in. That reconciliation will be impossible and you will say you are confused, otherwise, there is nothing confusing in this. And we want to accord and keep according some kind of validity toward pre-existing knowledge. Why? Because it is our knowledge. “How can my knowledge be proven suddenly false?

So, even if we come across something dimensionally new, we want to somehow fit it in with our pre-existing patterns of knowledge, so that we can say, “Right, I have something new, and it is just an extension or continuation of what I already knew. I have ornamented my old knowledge, so I have become better. I have not discarded anything.” But then all spirituality is the art of rejection. You have to discard, without discarding you continue to have what you already have. And if you are alright with that, then there is no need to read anything or travel anywhere or meet someone. If we are good as we are, then why do we need any endeavour?

So, first of all, drop the idea that we are all right as we are. And even that is quite fashionable in spiritual circles today—you are great and beautiful as you are. If you are great and beautiful as you are, why do you require someone else to tell you that? You are great, so you should know all this on your own. One has to have the humility to firstly accept that things are not alright. And from that humble acceptance, a lot starts falling, you start getting unburdened, lightness comes to life.

You see this world is a book, and our so-called God or Ishwar is the author. All problems arise when we give more importance to the book than the author.

Q: Yeah, I'm surprised when you say that God is not here in us, around us here. I'm very surprised you say that.

AP: Yeah, I know because that's the way it has been expressed everywhere. Right? “God is here God is there, God is within us, God is outside of us, God pervades all the universes, God is behind the eye, God is in front of eyes. God is in the living, God is in the dead, God is in the man, in the woman, in the animal, in the river, in the mountains.”

We all have been brought up on this diet of God-fullness, but we must remember that these are statements intended for a particular purpose. And what is that purpose? We have to understand. See, the transcendental nature of the Truth is too difficult to be conceptually explained.

The mind lives in a three-dimensional spatial reality bounded by time. Right? Mind lives in space and time, simply put. Everything that the mind contains is what is that troubles the mind. Correct? Therefore, entire spirituality is about centring the mind on something that is not within the mind. Therefore, God has to be non-temporal and non-spatial. Outside of time, he was there, even before time began. Right? That's how the scriptures put it: “He was there even before time began and outside of space.” So, the scriptures will say, “He created the world.” When it is said that he created the world, ‘Let there be light’, what does it mean? It means that even when space was not there, he was. But this is not a concept that even a physicist can easily grasp. So, how do we bring this concept to the layman, to the ordinary people?

So stories were devised as a means to bring the transcendental nature of Truth to ordinary people. And those stories exist in every country, in every religious stream, in every time. Now, how do those stories work? Please, understand. The moment I say, “God is here and there,” you have taken away personality from God, because if God has a personality and if God is a person, then any and every person has to be either here or there.

The moment you say, “God is here and at the same time God is there,” then it is difficult to see God as a person and that is what exactly is intended. “Do not see God as a person or a human being.” Right? When you say that God is within and God is without, again, the same purpose is served. Anything can either be within or without. It is difficult to visualize something that is both within and without. That is why it is said, “God is within and God is without” so that you do not try to put God within your ordinary universe or within the limits of your body. That's the purpose of these stories.

So, the stories work in two ways: sometimes they say, “God is within and God is without.” And equally, there are other stories that say, “God is neither within nor without.” Right? The purpose is this the same; identical purpose, and the purpose is to bring you to a point of meditation where you realize that there is stuff beyond the ego, beyond thoughts, beyond human conceptualization and that stuff is not three-dimensional stuff. That's the only point. Why do we need that? Because no three-dimensional stuff brings us to peace. Today, man has created enough stuff to be totally tired of stuff and still peace remains as elusive as ever.

In fact, mental diseases and depression of all kinds are today more pervasive almost endemic than they ever were whereas, we have so much stuff. So, stuff doesn't help therefore those stories are intended to communicate to us that there does exist a point that is neither in space nor in time. And that point is not merely conceptual that point has to be your living reality, otherwise, you will not get peace. That point has to be the reality in which you abide every moment, otherwise, you will remain restless.

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