May 19, 2023 | Acharya Prashant
Questioner (Q): In one of your videos, you mentioned that we don’t need to awaken fifty percent or more of the population to institutionalize change, we just need a small percentage. I don’t really understand this logic. Could you elaborate?
Acharya Prashant (AP): See, the majority is anyway never very capable of or very willing to take life in its own hands. That’s the way things are. We are not alleging or trying to be judgmental in that sense; that’s just the way things are and always have been. The bulk of the people want to have somebody to look up to. It’s these leaders that we need—rather we need to create—and then the people, the bulk of people, they will come along.
So, that’s what. When it comes to change, it’s really these two percent who matter. Though when change gets executed, it appears as if eighty or ninety percent of the population has participated in the change, right? But the fact is, it’s only the two percent active ones. For example, you may talk of, in the Indian context, the revolt of 1857, and you speak of it as if entire India rose in rebellion. No, it was just a handful of people. Similarly, if you look at the Russian or the French revolutions, we talk of them as if the entire country of Russia and France were up in arms. Was that really the case? We talk of the non-cooperation movement of Mahatma Gandhi. How many people were really with him? The vast majority is usually indifferent. That’s the way they are.
So, I am not saying one person can do it all, but you also do not require one crore people. The number is not one, but it’s closer to one than one crore. That’s the kind of numbers we need. And the most difficult part of operation is getting the first ten people. Ten to ten thousand is easier, ten thousand to ten lakh is even easier, and ten lakh to ten crore is a jiffy. So, it’s the initial part, the formative part that you are still struggling with. Actually, we need not look at these one percent or two percent people as individuals. You could say it is that part of the overall structure of society that moves the society. Just as when you are running, all parts of your body are at a certain speed, but it’s only the legs that are moving, but you don’t say that the legs are running, you say the man is running, similarly it’s these one or two percent that would be the legs that would carry the society along.
Q: I am still a little skeptical whether that one or two percent could institutionalize such a huge change.
AP: Okay, come to the fact of today. Look at the masses. How many people are really controlling these masses? And you very well know that they are being controlled. Now, think of the numbers that exercise the control. One or two percent is a very, very large number—it’s an exaggeration. It’s 0.1 percent.
Q: But they would have to be the right people, right?
AP: Exactly. So, that’s what, you see. The one or two percent I am talking of would be very special people. That’s why I didn’t talk of finding them; I talked of creating them. They will need to be created. That’s the part where the maximum effort is needed. After that things are smooth.
Q: Because these one or two percent of people have to be rich, they have to be powerful, and they have to want to implement change, right?
AP: Yeah, a few conditions have to be met, not necessarily that they have to be rich and all that; but yes, a few conditions have to be met, like tilling the ground and sowing the seeds. After that not much effort is needed; not that after that nothing is needed, but the bulk of the work has been done.
Q: And especially so considering that as humans we are not biologically designed to go against ourselves. It seems like there is always going to be work in fighting against our innate nature.
AP: Yeah, that’s why only one or two percent—because not everybody will choose to do that. Even that one or two percent, I repeat, is a very, very big number, because we are not trying to be choosy or selective. We are talking of people who will actively go against themselves, who will fight against themselves. So, that’s the reason why finding even a few such people is a mammoth task. Once—I am very sure about it—once the core is created, let’s say a few hundred or a few thousand people, after that it’s going to be smoother. Way smoother.
Q: Yeah, it always seems the hardest when you are starting off or when you are just starting off.
AP: And especially when you are starting off even twenty years after having started off! Not twenty, but at least fifteen. So, fifteen years and you still feel as if you are starting off. So, there is a bit of fatigue that creeps in.
Q: Then there is also everything that has come during these fifteen years. A lot has happened during this time. I guess it just doesn’t seem fast enough.
AP: It’s just not fast enough. See, direction is not a problem, destination is not a problem; the speed is the problem. The direction is right, the destination is certain; I don’t even think about those things. It’s the speed that I am frustrated with.
Q: Is this tussle always going to go on throughout human existence? It used to exist, it doesn’t exist, it exists now; someone is fighting for it, someone is fighting against it. Is this just how things are going to be?
AP: More or less. That’s the human body. That’s what we are born with and born into. As long as the human body is the way it is, the human condition will be the way it is. So, you cannot have the same body as we have and still hope to have a fundamentally different world. This world is this body. So, more or less, every age will see the same kind of conflict being played out again and again in its own form, in a form characteristic of that particular age. But as long as there is birth, there is youth, there is old age; as long as somebody is a man, somebody is a woman; as long as we grow up and we want to accumulate and we want to be rich; as long as man and woman have that attraction towards each other, man wants to chase woman, woman wants to have kids—that’s the human conditioning; it’s embedded in the body. The world that we see outside is actually a thing of the body.
Q: It seems like there are these patterns that keep repeating. For example, the pandemic; now it looks like a war; then perhaps a famine has been speculated to follow. And all of these things have happened in the past. We kind of know what is going to happen, we just don’t know the time when it’s going to happen, and we just live on as we are.
AP: Because we have two hands and the number of hands is not changing; because we have the brain, and the size and the configuration of the brain is not changing; because we continue to be inwardly the same as we always have been, therefore, outwardly, the world will not fundamentally change. It’s just that a few things here and there… You very well know there is going to be the day and the night; it’s just that at some places there is day, at other places there is the night. So, that much of deviation or variation can be there.
You very well know the way we are. We will create problems for ourselves. And given that we need food and food is so important to us, food is going to be one of the major problems that we are ever going to have. So, irrespective of the technological growth, famines are a certainty. It sounds strange—how is it possible that in this century we’ll still not have enough to eat? And that’s because we do not understand the relationship between man and his world. We think that man remaining the same, his external conditions can still change. We think that technology can bring about a fundamental difference. It cannot.
Q: And that is a lesson that history should’ve taught us long back, and yet we remain so optimistic. We just don’t see the patterns repeating themselves again and again.
AP: And that tells you something very important about optimism. What is this thing called optimism? It’s self-delusion. You being what you are, you stubbornly remaining who you are, you are still optimistic that you will be different and your conditions will be different and the world will be a better place. This is called optimism. “I will remain who I am, but my conditions will change and the world will have a better tomorrow.” This is optimism. Obviously, it’s just foolhardy.
Q: I find the way that the situation in Ukraine has accelerated very unnerving. Wars in the past had much slower progressions, but this conflict has escalated into a full-blown physical and economic war in a matter of weeks. I wasn’t alive at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, but this feels similar to that: that we could just blow ourselves up any minute and end human existence altogether. I’ve never really thought that something like this would happen in my lifetime, but I am starting to think that people are crazier than I thought they were. Are they really not able to learn from the mistakes of the past?
AP: See, if we remain the way we are and continue to make technological progress, then obviously that technology is going to be used for self-harm. It’s just that there can be long stretches when we somehow, with some wisdom and some luck, manage to just survive in periods of relative peace, and that will embolden us to speculate that we are wise people, that we are capable of peace, that we are deserving of peace. But reality has a tendency to show up at the most inappropriate times. Bad habit!
So, just when you are somehow recovering from COVID, you have a war at hand. How wise, how wise! A world that is facing the worst kind of pandemic in over a century, even before it has fully recovered—and we do not know, another virus or variant might as well be on its way. In fact, it is actually on its way; that’s what all research tells us. With the virus on the prowl, that’s when we find it opportune to have a nuclear war—you know, as if the pandemic were insufficient.
So, that’s how wise we are. And we, in celebration of our wisdom, have gifted ourselves massive nuclear arsenals. “We are so wise! We deserve to have so many nuclear heads!” Actually, we just don’t know who we are. The human condition is of gross overestimation of itself. Who is a human being? To say that a human being is someone who does not know himself is a very feeble statement. A human being is a chimpanzee who thinks he is not a chimpanzee. That’s the right definition. No chimpanzee ever thinks he is not a chimpanzee. A human being is a chimpanzee who thinks he is somebody else, and he has given himself, venerated himself with a very honorable name—human being. Lack of self-knowledge.
Q: Whenever the population has grown excessively in the history of mankind, usually one of two or three events has happened: it’s either famine, war, or some form of pandemic or an infectious disease. It seems like we might have sidestepped the pandemic—we still don’t know, the virus could be figuring out how to most effectively kill us—but it seems like we might’ve just stepped into another population-reducing event. And isn’t this the endgame, that as long as we don’t wisen up, it is just going to be these cycles over and over again?
AP: Exactly. In Prakṛti (physical nature), there is nothing called compassion, just as there is nothing called wisdom. So, no wisdom from man’s side, no compassion from Prakṛti’s side. We act like material beings. She kills us like one swats flies. With wisdom, there is compassion. You display wisdom, she displays compassion; you have no wisdom, she has no compassion. So, then you are eradicated in thousands and millions—who knows, in billions.
Once you press the nuclear button, it’s not going to be one nuclear weapon; it’s going to be as many as possible, it’s going to be weapons as long as there remain fingers to press buttons. The last weapon would be when there is the last finger to launch it. Nobody is going to take a nuclear assault sitting. Once the weapon has been launched, all the weapons have been launched. Our neighboring country, one of the leaders very famously said, “We didn’t make the bomb and the missiles to use as firecrackers in weddings. They are real things to be really used. So, when we get the opportunity, we will really use them!” In fact, there are so many people just dying to use them.
The question is, is existence even a value? We talk of the eradication of the human race as if it were a big calamity in the eyes of all, as if existence, the existence of the human race, is something that is absolutely and unanimously a value. The question I want you to consider is, do most human beings even value existence? And if we don’t value existence, why would we think that existence being wiped out is a great calamity? Plenty of people exist—do they value their existence? If they don’t value their existence, why will they feel tremendously horrified about the prospect of them existing no more? “When I exist, I don’t respect existence, so why will I be so worried whether I will exist anymore? And why will I give two hoots if the entire existence is wiped out?” And you look at human beings and you don’t get credible proof that we do indeed respect our existence.
Q: But the people who are exercising that power, they surely appeal to be the ones who value their existence, right?
AP: Or so they display.
Q: Most people seem to be scared of dying or loss of existence. It seems like they value the pleasure and the happiness that they get.
AP: You see, that’s the thing. Existence in reality is not the existence of the body. As far as bodily existence is concerned, you know and I know and everyone else knows it is anyway going to be there no more; it’s a limited thing in limited time, so you can’t value it beyond a point. If you want to value physical existence beyond a point, you will always be faced with the right argument that the body itself is ephemeral. The body itself is ephemeral—that’s the argument that they give while slaughtering old animals. They say, “You know, this cow, she does not produce any milk now, and she is getting old and she will anyway last no longer than two or three years, and in these two or three years, she is anyway going to eat filth and be on the roads and suffer, so I have actually done a favor to her by slaughtering her.” The fact that the body will be no more one day enables you to conduct bodily slaughter. That’s the argument.
But there is another existence that is not bodily, and that has to be respected. That we do not respect. Would we respect that, we would know that the purpose of life is not accumulation of power or weapons or this or that; the purpose of life is veneration, the purpose of life is worship. That which exists, exists for the sake of completion. The purpose of life is to take that thing to completion, and that thing is related to the body but is not really bodily; that thing becomes manifest along with the body but is itself not bodily. I am talking of consciousness. Could we respect consciousness, we would have very little time to respect power and destruction and brinkmanship and such things. But because we don’t respect consciousness, we have ample time and energy to devote to all kinds of nonsense.
Q: It feels very sad to see that that which is the really valuable, consciousness, is also something which is not powered. Basically, it doesn’t have power in the world, with respect to the world.
AP: You see, all the power that you have is for the sake of consciousness, right? So, you have to decide whether you want to use power to uplift consciousness or to destroy consciousness. In either case, power is related to consciousness. It’s just that you are so blind; that power that you gathered thinking that it will do you good, you use that power to destroy your consciousness.
So, it’s not that consciousness needs to have power; you need to decide to devote power to the service of consciousness.
What is power? Power is a resource. You have all the resources at your disposal. You have this in life, you have that in life; you have money, you have muscle, you have knowledge; you have bombs. You decide what your money and knowledge and your power is for. It could either be to uplift you, or it could be to just dig you deeper into your hell.
Q: The ones who choose upliftment, the thing is that they do not have that power, and the ones who really want to degrade consciousness have a lot of power.
AP: That’s a part of human existence; that’s part of the story of the human condition. The part of you that will support consciousness would always be small—you could say it would always be a minority—and the part of you that would be opposed to consciousness would always be stronger and constitute the majority. And if this is the condition within the human being, this is also the condition in the entire world. So, we will find that in the world the forces arranged against consciousness are stronger, and the ones in favor of consciousness are weaker.
So, that’s always going to be the condition because that’s the condition inside the human being, that’s the condition of the human body. Your habits generally defeat your wisdom, don’t they? So, that’s the condition of the human body and, therefore, that’s the condition of the human world.
Q: But if our programming is against consciousness, maybe that’s just the way it’s supposed to be. If my heart pumps blood in a certain way, maybe that’s just the way it is; I don’t say, “Why is it doing that? Let’s do it differently.”
AP: Right, that’s the way it is; no quarreling with that. We know that’s the way it is. That’s the given condition.
Q: But if that’s the given condition, the forces for consciousness will always be weaker and less powerful, right? Is that just physical nature telling us that that’s what should prevail?
AP: No. Prakṛti is giving you these initial conditions to start with; thereafter it is your game to play. You could use the same situation to describe it very differently: you could say the forces in favor of consciousness are inherently so powerful that they managed to make a game of it even if they are in a minority; therefore, if you put them in a majority, it would be no fun because the game would be over as soon as it begins. If you really want to have a fair game, if you really want to have two evenly matched sides, then you need to make the side in favor of consciousness particularly weak; otherwise, it will run away with the trophy.
Q: It’s what they call a handicap.
AP: Yes, yes. Give them a fair handicap so that the other side can manage to, you know, make some kind of a contest. Otherwise, it would be a no-brainer and a no-contest. Therefore, you need hundred Kaurava brothers against five Pandava brothers just to turn it into some kind of an even contest. Therefore, the armies of Rama need to be far weaker than the armies of Ravana; had they had comparable armies, the war would be over in a day.
So, goodness, probably by design, needs to begin with a handicap; only then there is fun in the game. Otherwise, it’s very quickly Satyameva jayate (Truth alone triumphs) and the spectators would be disappointed: the game that was supposed to last six hours ended in six minutes. No value for money! So, why is all this happening? Just so that we as spectators can get value for our money. Otherwise, everything returns to śūnyatā (nothingness) very soon. Māyā is defeated, everything is over, finished; the Absolute alone prevails, Truth alone is. Where is the fun now?
So, just that we all could have some fun, these sixty or eighty years that we have, that there is some thrill in it, this kind of a situation exists. Now we can talk. What’s the point in having a tiger against a hyena? So, it has to be twenty of the little things against one tiger; now it’s some fun. Somebody said, “All this exists to thicken the plot.” I don’t know who it was. The fellow was asked, “Why did God do all this?” and he said, “To thicken the plot”—otherwise there is no fun!
Q: So, it sounds like someone is having fun. It almost seems like someone has designed a video game where there are traps and special things to go after and catch.
AP: Why else do you think we call all video games as simulations? If they are simulations, doesn’t it make sense to ask what they are simulating? They are simulating our inner world. Why else would you call it a simulation?
Q: So, we are trapped in a game where we play games within the game!
AP: Yeah, we are in our inner game, where we are the weaker side, we are the stronger side, and we are also the spectators. And just so that the spectator can have fun, one side has to be purposefully kept weaker. And when does the game end? When you are tired of being engaged as a spectator. That’s when you become detached and the game is over, because then you just don’t want to have the fun or the pleasure of watching. And when you don’t want to have the fun of watching, then what do you do? You declare a winner. And who is to be declared the winner? The winner was always certain; it’s just that you wanted to delay his victory so that you can continue to enjoy his struggles and his suffering. When you are tired of watching, then you say, “Fine, the game is over. Come over, both of you, here. This one is the winner. Give up!”
Q: So, does declaring someone a winner mean that you are giving up?
AP: Yeah, you are giving up on yourself. You are giving up on yourself and you are declaring Truth to be the winner.
Q: Earlier you had mentioned that to be able to really bring change into the world, basically around 0.1 percent needs to have that power. You also mentioned that it is about creating those 0.1 percent instead of finding them. But it seems like it’s a never-ending process, because every child that is born is born with…
AP: …with the universe within himself, and therefore the spectator, the weaker side, the stronger side, all these are born with every new kid that takes birth. It’s a never-ending thing. However, it can end for you, and that’s what you should be concerned with. You cannot have too much influence on the life of the next kid that is going to be born. He too has his rights. Let him decide what he wants to do with the spectator, with that party, with this party. Let him play his own course.
Q: But this is not very encouraging advice for someone who really wants to bring real change to the world.
AP: The thing of encouragement is not that ultimately you will be successful in bringing about a permanent change. The thing of encouragement is that you will have something nice to do with these thirty-forty years you have been burdened with. Otherwise, you will die of boredom; otherwise, the only entertainment you can have is producing more kids. It’s a higher entertainment; play the game. Play the game to the hilt. Watch it, enjoy it as much as you can, and then declare the right party as the winner and joyfully retire. Some people call that enlightenment.
Q: So, the game keeps going on.
AP: For the ones who are interested in the game. Vedanta never speaks anything purely in an objective sense. So, when you say the game keeps going on, immediately ask, for whom? For the ones who are still interested; for the ones who still want to take a few more births. The game would continue to roll on. However, it can end for you. But why should it end too soon for you? Have fun. Have fun till you are sick of the fun. And that’s the thing with observing your fun and getting close to it. If you don’t get close to your pleasures, you will never be sick and tired of them. It’s only when you observe your pleasure carefully, that’s when you say, “Lights! Curtains, sir! Curtains. It’s a horrid drama. Curtains!”
Q: How is one supposed to know that you even have a choice to play the game, who the parties are to play, when this isn’t taught almost anywhere?
AP: But you are playing it all the time, are you not?
Q: But I didn’t know I was playing it.
AP: That’s the thing about being a drunk spectator. We all are playing the game all the time, are we not? We think that we are watching, but the fact is, we are the ones creating what we are watching. The game is rigged, and it’s rigged by the spectator of the game. The spectator is deciding which side would win, and the spectator has a stake in one side or the other.
But one thing is certain: whichever side you have a stake in, you want the game to be prolonged, right? A point comes when you realize that it’s no more fun; something higher is possible. And that love takes you in its arms, and then you can happily sleep.
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