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Life is random. And it's ok. || Acharya Prashant, at DTU (2023)
Author Acharya Prashant
आचार्य प्रशांत
22 मिनट
107 बार पढ़ा गया

Questioner (Q): Sir, all my life I have believed that my life has been a consequence of decisions I have taken for myself. But recently, in the past three months, I have had two retinal detachments and I've been blind for three months. I am questioning my beliefs now. Is life really a consequence of decisions we take or is it affected by external things and things that are not in our control?

Acharya Prashant (AP): There is hardly anything that is in our control as far as situations of life are concerned. So, even when we feel that things that are happening to us are actually happening because we plan them out that way, or that what is happening is a result of something that we did, it is actually not that way. Your situation here is obviously entirely different. You are clearly seeing that random, unpredictable, uncalled-for things are happening to you. Right? And you're asking why, and what is this, from where is it all coming? But think even of those who feel their life is in their control, even they are mistaken.

As far as the external environment is concerned, as far as material situations are concerned, a lot that is happening — I'm just shying away from saying that ‘everything’ that is happening, because to many of you that would sound too extreme, so I would limit myself to saying — a lot that is happening is simply incidental, random.

It's just that there is something called the ego, and one of the definitions of the ego is that it is the agency that likes to believe that it is the doer. What is the ego? The agency that likes to say ‘I did it.’ Whereas, the fact is, everything in the sensual-material domain is just random. It is the inability of the mind to come to terms with this randomness that gives rise to a fictitious doer.

The doer says “I did it” because it believes that things are within his control. “This has happened because I did it, so, it feels secure and I'll not be threatened. I can do good things for myself. I'll improve. I can take my situation to a higher place. I can do something. I am somebody and I can do this, do that, alter the conditions.”

However, many times this doer meets with rude shocks like in case of physical ailments. Suddenly, you discover one day that your report says you have cancer. The doer used to love to claim he does a lot. Now, who did the cancer? Now, the doer is perplexed. Who did this? And the doer obviously wants to take credit only for the good things in life or for the things in life it can turn good. Don't you see how we all behave? When something goes nicely, we like to claim credit, when things do not turn up as they should, we baulk away. We say, “Well, it was situational” or “I didn't do it” or “Somebody else did it” or “You know, it just was a random accident” or something.

The ones who can look at life with sharp insight, the ones who can have some detachment and intelligence, will realize that we actually have close to zero control over what is going on externally.

Even if, for a while, it appears that we are indeed in control. Very soon that illusion is exposed. And that while can last a bit. Not necessarily five minutes, for five years it might appear that you have control over external situations. The thing is, nobody has control over anything.

So many of us are sitting over here, who controls his or her birth? The very fact of our physical existence is something we did not have any say over. Not even the one with the greatest desire for control, a die-hard control freak, would dare to claim that he controlled his own birth. Equally, death. Most people would be fair enough to concede that their death is something that they never want to happen and hence is beyond their control because it does eventually happen. But in other matters of life, we believe, we behave, we rather pretend as if we are the movers and shakers, we are the doers. And when life ruthlessly exposes the falseness of this belief, then we are shattered.

There is very little that we actually control. Chance, randomness, is a great, great power. However, now that we have gone through the bleak part of it, let's come to the brightness — there is one thing that is bigger than chance and that is who you really are. Situations can affect everything about you.

Situations cannot affect you, provided you know who you are. Everything about you is situational. Classically, it is said to be in the domain of Prakriti. And that which is in the domain of Prakriti is in the domain of Prakriti. And you are not Prakriti, therefore you have zero control over the affairs of Prakriti. Things happen there. Your eyes are Prakriti, your body is Prakriti, the entire universe is Prakriti, your birth is Prakriti, your death is Prakriti. You come across a person and fall for her, all that is just Prakriti.

You believe you have done something — you have done nothing. It's like two chemicals believing that they have decided to react with each other. There is no agency there. There is no decision-making entity there. Things just happen. With us too, things just happen. The difference is that when it comes to chemicals, there is no ego there to claim decision-making or ownership. And there is no desire there to claim the fruit of the reaction.

Sodium and water give you sodium hydroxide. Well, sodium is actually gone but, let's say, sodium remains. Sodium will not say, “I own a part of the hydroxide because I made it.” So, this fictitious agency — ego, does not exist there.

When it comes to the external aspects of our life, the material aspects of our life, for example, the aspects of our body, these things are also like chemicals. But the great difference is, here we have an inner psychic fictitious agency that loves to claim — “I did it and I am suffering for it” or “I am enjoying the results of it.” The ones who start seeing what they usually call as life and events in life are just situational and random and are the ones who are liberated from life.

They are set free as liberated beings to fly high, without limits, and achieve their true potential. Whereas, those who keep thinking, very erroneously, that they are doing stuff when actually it's just a game of chemicals, they suffer.

So, we were saying, providence or chance or randomness or Prakriti is a great power. That power we sometimes refer to as luck as well. Luck or chance. For example, why was somebody born a male, and why was somebody born a female? Nobody decides that on his own. It just happens. Why was somebody born or somebody not born at all? Why black, why white? Why is somebody born with a silver spoon? Why is somebody born into an impoverished family? Luck, chance. Obviously, it has great power.

But there is one power, we said, that's greater than chance. And what's that? The power of the Self. And what is Self? That within you that must remain unaffected by chance, otherwise you will be puppets in the hands of luck, chance, providence, Prakriti , randomness. Does it sound great, to be a puppet? An unconscious puppet that does not even know who's holding the threads, the strings. How alluring does that sound to young people? But the thing is, we all indeed are puppets.

Just a couple of minutes back I had no idea that my throat would play up and I would be coughing at that particular juncture in my speech. Did I know in advance? I didn't. But it happened. You yawn, you cough, you sneeze, you breathe, you ingest food and you find it digested. Do you know how things are happening in the digestive tract, you don't know that. But it's just happening.

Similarly, decision-making. We feel we are deciding matters, but whether you go back to the classic Vedant or you return to modern science, even that which we call our conscious decisions are actually just chemical games being played out in form of thoughts and emotions.

We love to say “I thought this” or “I felt this”. The thing is, there is just the thought and just the feeling. There is no thinker, no feeler. There is just something happening in a biological, chemical way within. And mistakenly, you start taking ownership or credit for it. You start saying “Oh, I felt this way.” Did you choose to feel that way? No, it was just chance and we all are actually puppets.

How many of you choose your thoughts? Well, thoughts come and thoughts decide your choices, right? When you have to make a choice, it is the thought that is the chooser but did you choose your thought in the first place?

Somebody comes to you with some idea or some topic and you say “Let me think over it.” At that moment, do you know what you are going to think about the matter? No. Thought is largely autonomous. And thought has no capacity to see where it is coming from. Because thought has no capacity to see where it's coming from, we mistakenly believe that the thought is coming from someplace called the “I”. No, the thought is not coming from a place called the “I”, the thought is simply coming from hormones, chemicals, material Prakriti .

That's where the thought is coming from. So, we all indeed are puppets. Whatsoever is happening in life is just a chemical game. That sounds quite depressing, right? But as we said, there is brightness ahead, every cloud has a silver lining.

The Self is above all luck. And what did we say about the Self? Not much can be said about the Self but we'll have to. The Self is that within you that situations can never touch. And situations include time as well. When we talk of the material universe, that includes time —time and space. There is no universe without time-space.

The Self is that within you that is timeless, formless, spaceless, nameless, beyond your imagination. There has to be something within. And remember, that Self is an optional entity.

How optional? Yes, optional for you. If you want, it will exist for you. If you do not want, it will not exist for you.

The Upanishads say, “The Self exists only for the one who chooses it.” If you don't choose it, it won't exist for you. It will exist as an absolute Truth but it will not exist with respect to you. So, the Self is a choice. And if you have the Self, you can beat luck. Otherwise, you are puppets in the hands of luck. How many of you love to be puppets? I'll repeat that question again and again because as young people, there must be a ferocity within, a fire within, that says, “I do not want to live the life of a slave.” How many of you relish this proposition that ‘I'll continuously be a slave’? Does anybody enjoy this thought? Then the only help can come from the thing called the Self. The Self means the one that you really are, not the one that you have assumed yourself to be.

If you live in the Self, then you will see that whatsoever is happening to the body or to the world — and all kinds of tragedies, they might be good, they might be bad, and you might need to do a lot about them — but still, internally you will remain untouched, you will remain uncorrupted, you will remain free of fear and sorrow. Otherwise, life is unforgiving. Life does not spare anybody. And situations can be very, very brutal.

Coming to your place from Greater Noida, I had to navigate a stretch of around ten kilometres. The driving conditions were very pathetic. But I should not talk about the driving conditions. What was appalling was the living conditions. Life is cruel. If there are moments, if there are patches, in which life does not appear cruel, then that's just the interlude. (coughs) I had not wanted this (referring to the coughing episode). Just happened. I have two options.

I start paying attention to this or I choose to remain in the Self. I choose to remain in that which is timeless. The camera over here is recording something. Is it meant to record that which is the dust of time or is it meant to record that which deserves to be stored for the next hundred years for posterity? Please, tell me.

Do you see what the Self is? That which is valuable enough to be timeless. All else is the dust of time. When you return, would you want to remember this coughing or the content? You know what the Self is then. What is the Self? It's a choice. We might have a couple of souls here that take back nothing but the cough from here. The Self is a choice.

It's just that in this moment of luck, it is very clear that when it comes to content versus cough, content is to be chosen. In general situations of life, usually, the self does not appear that attractive. Other things appear very attractive and they get chosen.

Make the right choice. See what is just incidental and for that, you require something called self-knowledge. What is self-knowledge? To understand where one's impulses, thoughts, feelings, and strengths are coming from. The more you see where your entire system is coming from, the more you will feel detached from it. Because you will see that very little of it is within your own control. You will see that all this is an autonomous system independent of you.

Even if you are sleeping, the lungs continue to do what they have to. Even when you are sleeping, the brain, too, continues to do what it has to. The fictitious agency, the ego, goes to sleep and yet things keep happening. So, is it really the “I”, the ego, that is doing things? Not really. But those questions are not posed to us by our education system. Our education system, unfortunately, is just too much about the wall, the gadgets, the lights, the projectors, the wood, the metals. And what are all these things about? They are about the material universe — Prakriti .

About the Self, there is no education. When there is no education of the Self, a choice in the favour of Self becomes improbable. How can you choose something that you have never been educated in?

You can still choose it but the choice becomes difficult. You'll have to start looking at the body as something alien, something foreign. Not ‘my’ body but ‘the’ body.

Son, it would have been very easy for me to console you by saying that the thing that you are going through will pass sooner than later. Is that not the standard way? Somebody comes to you and expresses discomfort about his or her physical condition, and how do you respond? You say, “Oh nothing. You'll get well soon.” That's the classical response, right? Should I entertain you with that kind of hackneyed stuff? The fact is, you might never actually get well. I, too, carry physical conditions that are chronic and there are no cures available. The fact is that the body itself is an incurable, chronic disease. Not only is it incurable and chronic, but it is also actually a terminal disease. The body is a fatal condition. The body always results in death. So, what else is the body except for a terminal condition? what name do I realistically give to the body?

These are things that a young man must necessarily think about. A young person who has come to terms with death becomes fearless. And it is fearlessness that we require in our youth. And you cannot become fearless if you do not start seeing the body as something other than you.

The more you are attached to the body, the more you will be carried away by the bodily chemicals and the set processes and the Prakritik apparatus. You will think that's what life is all about. If you are young, you will say, “You know, there is the body and the body wants pleasure. Let me give it pleasure. Pleasure comes through money, so the purpose of life is to earn money. And there's the mind. And the mind is seated in the brain. And the mind wants happiness. The body wants pleasure.

The mind wants happiness and happiness comes from this, happiness comes from that, let me try all the means that will give me pleasure and happiness. And I'm a woman, my body is signalling that it requires a child. The purpose of life is to become a mother, a great mother.” And you will waste your life doing all these things.

Unless you start seeing that the body is a system of its own, very separate from who you really are, the body will become your destiny. And the word destiny is very close to the word destination. What is the destination of the body? Death. So, death will become your destiny. And that's the reason Upanishads continuously say that our only purpose is to liberate a human being from death. Immortality is what we are after. Otherwise, death is all that there is to life.

Life is death. If you are the body, life is death. What else? What's the point in living on if it all has to just end in death? What's the point? So many philosophers have grappled with this question. You remember, “To be or not to be?” What's the point in continuing to live? And that's the reason so many of them just ended their lives by suicide. Because they could not see what Vedant had to offer, that there is a life beyond the body and that life is not after death. That life is right now.

It is not that you are totally unavailable or unacquainted with that life. Don't you know that life? I mean, you have to get up at 5 am. The alarm goes off. The body is saying “It's so cold, I want to continue sleeping.” What do you decide? Sometimes you do decide to get up, right? Don't you see that the body has its own objectives and your objectives are different? Do you see this even if in a hazy way? Do you see this? You're sitting here, and I'm pretty sure there would be nobody whose body would be in a perfect condition to continue just sitting. Somebody would be feeling a bit thirsty, somebody a bit hungry, somebody would be feeling some ache somewhere, the knee is paining, but you say, “No, I'll continue to sit.” Right?

So, the body is a different system and you are a different entity. The entity that you are has to be chosen. And when you choose that entity, then irrespective of what life and situations have to throw at you, you'll be a champion. And there is no other way to be a champion. You have role models, you have success stories that tell you to go out, conquer this, conquer that, and then you will be called a successful person — all that is pure nonsense. All that these people are talking about just becomes dust, crumbles into nothingness in no time.

There were so many people who were respected as idols, role models just twenty years back when I was in my management campus. At least a few of them are behind bars today. And a few more are there who have just disappeared into oblivion. They are no more making the news. Nobody is talking of them.

Success that lies in external achievement, in material possessions, including the material possession called the body, all that can entertain you for a while but will not be able to take you through life. At some point, you will falter. And then there is depression and neurosis and whatnot. Think of that which can remain firm in face of all the beatings that life has to offer, that can remain unmoved in face of all the temptations that life throws at you.

Empower that, strengthen that. That Self. Even though it is an absolutely powerful entity, as far as we human beings are concerned, we have to nurture it, cultivate it, raise it for ourselves like one raises a baby. That's the real meaning of growing up, of maturity. Raise the Self like one raises a kid. Growing up is not about producing a biological kid and raising it. It's about raising yourself. Am I making sense or is it all just hot air bypassing your locations?

The Self has to be developed with practice and discipline. If there is stuff that you know you must not choose, stand firm and do not choose. Even if it appears alluring, even if it appears threatening, stay firm. Stand your place. Learn immovability. But we question our situations only when we suffer, right? Today there is a physical problem, therefore, you have raised this question.

There would be so many here who would be in the spring of their physicality and be very happy with how their bodies are currently behaving. They will never ask me “Sir, what do I do with all the pleasure that the young body has to offer me?” And that's the problem. Whether it is pleasure or suffering, you have to realize it is not yours. And if you are somebody who wants to own the pleasure that comes from the material body, then you will be obliged to own the suffering as well.

The equation is simple. You cannot take one and leave the other. If you want to identify with physical pleasures, material things, then you will also have to bear all the material suffering.

Therefore, discipline is needed. Am I talking about not having pleasure? No, I'm talking about having higher pleasure. I'm talking about having a higher quality of pleasure. Those who have known, have called it joy. They have said even animals experience cheap kind of pleasures; there is nothing in that. Can you experience the pleasure contained in conquering yourself? That's called Joy.

Therefore, your role models must not be the ones who claim they have conquered the world. Rather look at the ones who did not allow the world to mean too much to them. That's called conquering oneself. And this is not some old-fashioned nonsense. This, that is being said, is timeless. It can never get old. It does not appear attractive, but I appreciate it. Youth and inexperience and lack of education in the self, therefore a lot of it simply would appear unbelievable. But it helps.

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