June 5, 2022 | Acharya Prashant
Questioner (Q): My question is about global warming. As you have said in your videos, the problem of global warming is due to excessive consumption. In our final year of graduation when companies offer us placements, they offer us a lot of money and pick up the best minds using this incentive. These companies are usually very profit-driven and consume a lot of resources.
Someone like me, who is interested in working towards preserving the environment, finds it very disappointing when the enemy is getting stronger day by day and there seems to be no support for us. There is sometimes also the temptation to just go with the flow and follow the masses. How can we motivate ourselves to go in the right direction instead of succumbing to the flow?
Acharya Prashant (AP): Yes, companies come to the campus and they offer you fat cheques, and most of these companies are indeed involved in stuff that only exacerbates climate change; that is true. There might be the one odd exception, but mostly the kind of goods and services most big corporations are providing are only worsening the state of climate change. So, you say you know that and yet you feel a lot of pressure to go with the flow. The pressure is not from the flow; the pressure is from our very old, basic physical tendencies. Even the little kid is greedy.
You may have fat offers here that make you shiver in your legs, but go to another student, probably from an ordinary campus, and if they are getting an ordinary offer, that offer means much the same thing to them as your offer means to you. It is not that the package is so large that it has overwhelmed you, right? We are born with the tendency to value our physicality much more than goodness. Money is something that appeals to our physicality.
You join a company, you get the signing or joining bonus, you get your first salary; what do you do with it? You uplift your consciousness? Your understanding deepens? Your field of love widens? You become a simpler individual? What happens when you start earning? What is it in your life that changes? I am asking you, does your consciousness improve? Do you grow in compassion? Do you turn friendlier? Do you start understanding the world and life with more clarity? Does that happen? No, that does not happen, yet something changes. What changes? You go and buy better clothes; you go and get a car; you get a well-furnished apartment; or you take a chunk of that money and give it to your parents.
Don’t you see that all of these are in the domain of physicality? “I got good clothes for myself, that is for my body; I got a car that hosts my body; I took the money and gave it to my physical parents who gave me this body; I bought an apartment, and I am now visiting better hotels and restaurants. What is food all about? The body and the taste.”
We are born like that, and every animal is born like that. Which animal have you seen valuing consciousness over physicality? No animal, right? And the closest example, if you want to understand your own condition, I said, is the human baby. You teach something to the baby, you might find reluctance—you will almost definitely find reluctance. You give the baby something to eat, you will find instant acceptance: “Oh! The thing has to be tasty.”
You have to be pushed to go to the school. Nobody pushes you to come to the dining table; nobody pushes you to sleep. Have you ever set an alarm to fall asleep? Please, tell me. “I have set an alarm for 10 p.m. so that I can fall asleep at 10 p.m.”—does that happen? No. First of all, you don’t set an alarm to fall asleep; secondly, even if you set the alarm to wake up, the sleep doesn’t want you to wake up. That is our physical constitution. That is the way we are born.
We cannot fight ourselves, our DNA. It is there in our DNA; it is there in the DNA of every animal to value physicality a lot. However, Homo sapiens are unique in a sense. We are animalistic, but we are not only animalistic; we are animals, but there is something in us that transcends animals. We have consciousness that aspires for heights. It has a vague restlessness. It understands that merely satisfying the body cannot be the purpose of life, there has to be something higher, so it searches for answers. “There has to be something higher in life; merely earning money and fattening yourself, getting better food, better apartment, better cars, better prospects in marriage, better sex—that alone cannot be life. There has to be something else, something higher to life.”
Our consciousness is looking around to get the answers. And to whom does it go to get the answers? Only to the people it sees around. It goes to the parents, to the teachers, and to the influencers coming from media, and there it asks, “Please tell me, what do I do in life? Please tell me. I have a vague idea, I have an inkling that life has to be beyond the physical compulsions, but what is it that is beyond the physical compulsions? Please, tell me.”
And what does our education system tell us? “Well, beyond your physical compulsions is societal respect. Do all the things that will make the society respect you.” Now, fat pay-packages are something that society attaches value to, so you say, “Fine, now this is the purpose of life.” It is another matter that, as we just explored, the fat pay-package is nothing but an extension of our animalism. Money can be used for the upliftment of the consciousness, but that is not what we use it for, right? Money basically means the body.
So, this human consciousness, then, gets very focused on doing all the things that society teaches it. We call that as civilization and we call that conditioning as culture, and we think that our civilization and culture make us different from animals. We don’t realize that our cities are an extension of the jungle, and our culture is an extension of our animalistic tendencies that we are born with. And that is the drama that gets played out everywhere, including the campuses.
So, just as in the jungle you have various kinds of animals competing with each other for food, for trophies, for hunt, or for sex, you find the same scenario being played out in a more sophisticated and civilized way in corporate offices and academic campuses. There the animals are competing with each other to get the largest share of the kill. A zebra has just been hunted down, and hyenas and all kinds of other predators—there are vultures, there are lions—they all want to have the biggest share. Equally, in the campus, we want to have the biggest offer.
The jungle is not distant from us because the jungle is within us. We came out from the jungle, but the jungle lives within us. Outside, we feel there is no jungle, there is only concrete; but within there is just the jungle—a very sophisticated jungle, however. Rare is the individual who understands this and says, “I am not born to live and die an animal. I cannot do all those things that animals anyway do.”
Think of the entire lifecycle of an average human being. Is he doing anything that animals don’t do? For us, having a good house of our own is such a big priority. You look at any species—they all attach great importance to building their nests or owning their cave, or whatever, and they fight with each other for territorial rights: “This is my place! How dare you come to this place?”
Even street dogs, they mark their zones. Have you seen them lifting their legs and marking their area? That is what human beings too are doing. It is just that towards dogs, we are very condescending; we say these are just street dogs. When the dogs mark their territory, how is that different from the boundary walls of our homes? Please, tell me. It is just that animals don’t have much of intellect, so they cannot plan too much for the future. We plan for the future as well.
So, when you look at that mad rush where people are saying, “Let the planet be reduced to ashes, let there be global warming, let there be climate change, let there be biodiversity extinction—I don’t care at all; I care about my stomach, my conveniences, and social approval,” then you should realize that it is the ancient jungle you are seeing.
Welcome to the difficult challenge of being human.
Q: You said that human beings have a consciousness that aspires for heights. What is consciousness? How can we say whether a system is conscious or not? I have heard people explain it very abstractly or in very unscientific ways. How can we say whether a stone lying on the ground is conscious or not? Mostly, people say that the living beings are conscious and non-living beings are not. It is a flow of energy through space and time, as Albert Einstein said.
AP: Anything that experiences is conscious. Consciousness is the entire domain of your happiness, sorrow, likes and dislikes. Everything that is rising is in the domain of consciousness; everything that is falling is in the domain of consciousness. Who is the conscious one? The one who experiences.
How do you define experience? The urge to not remain who you are—that is what makes an entity conscious. And the process of consciousness is via duality: “I don’t want to remain who I am. Using what I am perceiving, I want to change, so I want to use this to change.” This is the process of consciousness. The conscious entity is the one that is experiencing this, experiencing this in order to change. Does the stone have a quest for liberation? It is a far-fetched thing to say. So, even if you want to say that every particle in the universe is conscious, then the level of consciousness is extremely low.
Who, then, is a highly conscious entity? The one who has a strong urge for liberation. What is liberation? Everything that limits your experience—mind you, a conscious entity is an experiencing entity—everything that limits your experience is bondage. The one who realizes that bondage, feels suffocated, and rebels against it, is a conscious entity. There is no complication, no abstraction in it. When you want to rise higher, when you just cannot remain the one you are, when you have a choice, unlike a stone, then you are conscious.
You are lying somewhere and you are pushed aside; then you have a choice. The stone is pushed aside, but the stone does not have a choice. Or even if it has a choice, it is lying very, very latent within the stone. The stone will one day become soil, the soil will one day become a fetus—before that it will become food—and the fetus will then turn into a human being, and that is when the stone will develop choice.
So, even if you want to assert that the stone too is conscious, its consciousness is lying greatly dormant within itself. So, the stone will have to go through a lot, undertake a long journey to come to a point where it can say it has an active choice; till then, nothing.
One could call him the best contemporary representative of Advait Vedanta. Or one could simply call him a teacher beyond any tradition. Equally, one can see an abundance of compassion, love and reverence in his being. But the most appropriate way to know him would be through his work. Know More