June 3, 2022 | Acharya Prashant
Questioner (Q): Does Vedanta, or wisdom literature in general, offer any fundamental solutions to the problems that we face as normal individuals in our personal and professional lives?
Acharya Prashant (AP): Vedanta doesn’t go at all into the specifics of the problems we face. If it does that, it would become very limited, temporal, and even regimentary. That is because the problems faced by people in one age vary greatly from the problems in another age; problems faced by one community, or one gender, or one economic class are not the same as faced by others. So, if we try template-based solutions, they would never suffice.
Vedanta goes directly into the one who is facing the problem. Problems are multifarious, problems are so diverse, but the one who is facing the problem has remained much the same since the advent of time. Man’s insides have not changed.
The exteriors have changed majestically. If you look at the way we live today, our civilization, and the technology available to us, it is very different from the exteriors we had, the resources we had, the technology that we had at our disposal, let’s say, five thousand years back. Everything has changed. If someone were to videograph a place, let’s say a university campus like Nalanda, several years back and were to compare it with a video clip of, let’s say, our campus (IIT Delhi) today, he will hardly find anything in common. There has been so much change.
But there is one thing that has not changed at all: that is the self, the one we fundamentally are. And I am talking here about the ego, I am talking here of man’s mind; that has not changed. When I say ‘man’ I mean humans; that includes both the genders. We were insecure then, we are insecure today; we were ignorant then, we are ignorant today; we wanted to be better then, we want to be better today; we were never satisfied then, we aren’t satisfied today either. Greed, fear, jealousy, possessiveness ruled the day then; they abound equally today as well.
That is what Vedanta addresses, and that is why Vedanta is of such timeless value: because time will change everything on the outside. What is not changing is the one we are on the inside, and that is our very problem. Externally, we are able to change everything; internally, so little has changed. In fact, every new kid that is born, is born at point zero. Irrespective of how much progress mankind has made, every new kid is a new challenge.
So, that is where Vedanta becomes perennially useful. It says: Why are you troubled, first of all? Who is the one so much in need of trouble that he can give up everything except his problems? Today you are worried about this thing, tomorrow you are worried about that thing. Things that you are worried about keep changing, but your state of being worried does not change. What does that tell? Does the problem lie with the situations, or does the problem lie in the one who is situated in the problems?
Let’s say we take away all the problems that each of us face today, here. What do you think, we won’t be worried tomorrow and the day after tomorrow? No. Very quickly, just for the sake of our psychological existence, we will dig up problems, we will rather invent problems. Without problems, there is something within us that cannot survive, and it is a very fragile, very insecure thing; problems are its very nutrition.
That is what Vedanta digs deep into. Who is the one sitting inside so much in need of problems? And what is the point in striving so much on the outside if this mischievous one, the real culprit sitting within is anyway never going to feel contented? I may explore and win the entire world and keep at its feet; it is still going to keep cribbing: “Oh, this is not sufficient, that is not proper!” And if there is no problem, that itself becomes a problem—as if the problem itself is born from the mother’s womb.
That is what Vedanta goes into. It is not a belief system. It does not ask you to believe in mythological stories or gods and goddesses. There is no belief involved. In some sense, entire Vedanta can be condensed into this one question: Who is the one talking? Who is the one experiencing? Who is the one searching for happiness? Who is the one always dissatisfied? Who is the one competing and hustling so hard?
And when you start knowing that, as a result of your investigation, as a result of your enquiry, you find you have power, you have choice. What is the choice? “Do I want to remain that one?” And it is a very powerful choice to have. If you don’t have that choice, there is so much helplessness: “I can change everything outside, but I cannot change the one who I am.” It is a situation of miserable helplessness, is it not?
Vedanta gives you great power because it blesses you with that choice. Internally, you need not compulsorily be the one you have been so far. You can be totally different, you can be entirely better, and the transformation need not be just superficial. The very essence can change, as if a new individual can take birth.
Remember, it somehow suits us to play the victim. We want to act as if life has been hard on us; we want to give too much importance to our circumstances. Vedanta says: Let circumstances remain where they are. Your entire domain is your own kingdom, the internal one. Outside, things can happen in their own random way; internally, you can be the master. Irrespective of how things are outside, internally you can remain untouched, undisturbed. And that is a very powerful state to be in.
Otherwise, there is no dearth of problems. When one is not alright inside, then problems appear from all possible directions outside. It is not that those directions are to be blamed; it is the lack of inner health, inner wellness that is the culprit.
Q: Will Vedanta be the religion of the future?
AP: See, whether Vedanta will become the religion of the future or not, only time can tell. Three thousand years have passed since the Vedas have come into being. So, if Vedanta were to become a religion, it would have been by now. One cannot say anything definite or certain about these things. And having such an ambition that Vedanta would be followed by the whole world in future is not a spiritually evolved desire either.
What is Vedanta? Vedanta is enquiry. Vedanta is a rebellion. And enquiry and rebellion go together, no? When you are deeply discontent with not knowing, when you rebel against your state of ignorance—that is called rebellion, right? You don’t know but you are satisfied, content with not knowing—then why would you question? Why would you be curious? Enquiry is rebellion—rebellion against what? Rebellion against ignorance. So, Vedanta is rebellion against ignorance of the self.
Someone asked me eight or ten years ago, “Where do the Upanishads come from?” I said, “Upanishads come from ‘no’.” So, Vedanta is an emphatic ‘no’, negation—‘no’ against what? ‘No’ against my present state of living. This is Vedanta.
“If my present condition is indeed bad, and if I honestly acknowledge that I do not want to continue living that way, then I will deeply enquire and investigate to understand why my present situation is so bad. I won’t make excuses. I won’t falsely accuse anyone or hold the circumstances and situations responsible for my present condition. I will come to understand that I am responsible for whatever is happening in my life. So, what is it within me that constantly keeps me in bondages and suffering?” Vedanta asks this question. This is self-enquiry: “Who am I? I often find myself in strange and disgraceful situations—who am I? Where did I come from? Who am I?”
And Vedanta is not talking about your hand, hair, or nose. Vedanta talks about that thing within you which is in pain and suffering. Your hand is not suffering; there is something else within you that suffers, that desires, that hopes, and when those hopes and expectations are not fulfilled, it gets disappointed, and then it expects again.
Who is that within you? Where does it come from? And if it desires, hopes so many things and so many times, then what does it really want? Sometimes it runs in this direction, sometimes in that direction; sometimes it goes one way seeking happiness, sometimes in the other way to get some pleasure. Wherever it goes, it may find few moments of happiness, but those moments are fleeting like a morning star—present now and gone the next moment.
Who is that within us that seeks happiness throughout our lifetime but never gets satisfied? And then, after repeated defeats and disappointments, it plays a self-deceptive and dishonest trick of calling suffering itself as happiness. It says, “I am happy, I am okay.” Why? Because it has tried a hundred times to find happiness but didn’t find it. And every time it went for happiness it got more entangled in bondage, and now the bondages have become so hard and rigid that there is no hope left that it will be able to break these bondages. So, it says, “Let’s play a small dishonest trick: let’s call bondages as freedom and suffering as happiness.”
Who is that within us that is suffering and yet dishonest? Vedanta is the name of this search.
Vedanta does not focus on external, material things. Vedanta does not say, “Go to that temple, worship this goddess, believe in stories about God who resides in the sky and created this world.” All such childish talk doesn’t have any place in Vedanta. Vedanta is for adults. Religion may appeal to adolescents; organized religion is kid stuff. Some X said something to Y, then god created the world in such and such way, then this god had a quarrel with that goddess, then a sage appeared and assuaged them, and so on. Vedanta doesn’t have any place for such fancy stories, absolutely none; there the subject matter is for adults.
Vedanta’s approach is clean, straight and well-defined. For the sake of understanding, we can even say that it is scientific, although Vedanta goes beyond the purview of science. Science only looks at what is happening outside, in the external environment; science doesn’t talk of what is happening within us.
So, whether Vedanta will become the future religion of humanity or not will depend on how we want our future to be. Vedanta claims that you are not powerless, you are not helpless; you have a lot of power within you. In fact, you have so much power that you can destroy your life. If you didn’t have so much power, then why would you be in such a bad state? You have misused your power to come to this state.
So, how the future unfolds will also depend on the direction in which your power is being channelized. If you direct your power and energy towards self-destruction, then Vedanta will keep lying on the fringes and periphery as it has been until this day. But if we make a conscious choice to not destroy ourselves due to climate change or population explosion or extravagant consumerism, then we have to bring Vedanta into our lives.
But the data and the signals don’t seem to indicate that humanity has made the choice to save itself from self-destruction and sustain itself in a healthy way. From what we are seeing now, it appears that within the next ten, twenty, or forty years itself—especially you guys are young, so you will definitely witness for many years before you die the devastating impact of our actions on planet Earth. It has already started, but the media does not highlight such issues because they won’t sell and they won’t bring in ads from the companies, so they are not brought to the attention of the masses. Otherwise, the countdown to annihilation has already started. The temperatures we are experiencing right now in April is not a usual or an ordinary thing. We are not interested in looking at such facts and figures because we are sitting comfortably in air-conditioned rooms—but this will also not continue for long.
There is a reason why I put aside the usual career paths taken by students after studying at IIT, IIM, or after getting through UPSC. All those career paths are good and there are many people taking those paths. I did not see anyone doing this work, and this work is an urgent necessity in our times. If nobody is doing what is urgently needed, then somebody has to step in and do that, right?
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