Question: Do goals always limit us, or can they be helpful as well?
Acharya Prashant: The method is to always ask, “Whose goals?” You have done the exercise named, ‘Who am I?’ You have done the exercise called, ‘I in identity’. You ask, “Do goals always limit us?” Do goals exist in a vacuum? Or are they always somebody’s goals? Is a goal something that is devoid of a context? Does it hang on a tree? Does it rain from the clouds? Or is it always something attached to something?
AP: A goal is always coming from something. It is always belonging to somebody. The moment you ask, “Are goals important?” You must always ask, “Whose goals? Who is the one who is making the target?” Is there a goal without a goal oriented mind? Do goals float about in thin air? Are they something hanging in a vacuum? The moment you say ‘goal’ you are talking of a mind. A mind having a particular target.
Now, you can take it forward. From where does the mind get that target?
The question has been simply ripped open. You don’t need an answer now. The question is gone! Dissolved! Where there is a goal, there is a goal maker. And all goals are coming from something that the mind has acquired for its own perpetuation. The mind has been tutored that unless it has a goal, it cannot live. So the mind wants goals.
The mistake that the mind makes is that it forgets that the goal is an acquired thing. That the goal is not its essence. Using the goal, the mind always wants to reach somewhere, right? Where does it want to reach? What does it want? What does the mind want? When I have a goal, I want to reach somewhere. Where do I want to reach?
L: Basically the present is not satisfying. So I want to go into the future.
AP: Where? Where in the future?
L: Somewhere I can get happiness, contentment.
AP: So the mind wants to find happiness and contentment. What is that happiness?
L: Something that the mind is not experiencing in the present moment and it is perceiving that in doing that process it will achieve that.
AP: So one thing is certain that it is something that the mind is not currently experiencing.
Goal is a guarantee. The presence of a goal is a guarantee that the mind is feeling deficient in something.
Something is missing. If I say that something is missing from my life and I want to bring it to my life, what is the maximum extent to which I can go?
Something is missing from your life, what would you want to add to it?
L: I’ll make some strategy…
AP: What would you want to add to it? Strategy is for a goal. What would be the end? Not the strategy. What would you like to add to the mind ultimately? Now that this is given, “I have achieved, I have reached, I have obtained.”
L: There is no end.
AP: Still, because you are chasing it because you are saying there is a goal, and goal means an end. So what is that end, what is it that you ultimately want?
L: For example, there is a student…
AP: You are there.
L: I am a student, I am giving an exam. I have a target that I want to achieve ninety plus marks.
AP: You want to achieve a particular recognition. You want to achieve a particular number. You can ask for money, you can ask for pleasure. Will you ever ask for ‘Abra-ka-Debra’? Why will you not?
L: I don’t know of it.
AP: I don’t know what it is, right? I have never had an experience of it in the past. So everything that I can set in front of my eyes as a goal is something that I have an experience of? Correct? Only that can be a goal, of which, I already have an experience?
AP: Experience means that the event has happened sometime in time, in the past. Did the journey come to a stop at that point in time, if it were so fulfilling?
AP: Even in my experience, have I ever seen the journey coming to a stop after that experience?
AP: So, whatever I want as a goal is coming from my past but whenever it has happened in the past, it has not really helped. Had it helped, the goal won’t exist, right? So I am caught in a very peculiar situation. I know I am restless, we are in the environment of goal making, I know I am restless, I speculate what will bring this restlessness to an end, and I start chasing it.
However, I also know that the chase is futile because these objects that I am chasing never really bring the chase to an end. So I am caught. It is a horrible situation. On one hand, I am restless, on the other hand, I do not really know what will be the solution to this restlessness.
I know only some fake solutions. I know only some false kinds of medicines. I do not know any real treatment. Restlessness is there, no doubt. Some kind of medicines have been provided, some paths have been shown leading to a goal, no doubt about that also. But there is also no doubt that all these paths that have been shown to me, somewhere I realize that these paths do not give me that which I really want. So I am stuck. What to do?
This is the entire environment of goals. Goals mean, “I am not feeling alright, I want something in the future.” So it is certain that I am not feeling alright. It is also certain that the world is proposing some kind of treatments to me.
L: It is also possible that I am not very restless. Suppose I have an organization, and I am enjoying my work fully. I have a project and I want to complete it at a particular deadline, that is my target and I am enjoying it.
AP: No, you see, the entire environment that you talked of, “I have an organization, I have a deadline, I want to complete it, I am enjoying it,” what are we talking of? What kind of mind are we looking at? A mind that is saying, “Unless I complete this at a particular time, something will go missing.” And it also has to enjoy.
L2: Is it a compromise that the mind is projecting?
AP: Chasing goals?
AP: It is not a compromise, it is the only way that the mind can see. When I am restless, what do I do? I can’t just sit still. I tell myself, “How can you sit still? You are not feeling alright! So go ahead and do something!” Now, what to do? That I do not know. But I have an inventory of memory. I don’t know what to do but I have to do something, so what will I do?
L3: Fetch something from the memory…
AP: Fetch something from the memory and start doing it. “You know my neighbour was also not feeling alright, so what did he do? He bought a new car, so I must also get a new car. Ah, how much do I have? My god, I only have 4.5 lakhs, but the car that I want to buy, because my neighbour too has bought it, is rupees 8 lakhs. So 4.5 right now, and I have to hit eight by the end of the year.”
What do I have now? A goal. A false medicine.
The restlessness is there, but something has to be done about it. So what do I do? I invent a goal. I have to do something! I don’t know what really to do. So what do I do? I copy what others are doing. They have goals. ‘Get a kid by next year end. Get a house. Get a new pair of socks’. Ah, maybe that. Any kind of goal may help.” “Go to the gym and reduce weight; maybe that will make you feel better about life.”
Where do all of these goals come from? From my limited inventory. It is like, I once fell ill in the past, and some of the unused medicines are still lying with me – this happens a lot in large families. There is a pool of unused medicines stored in a drawer or someplace. And now somebody falls ill, and you don’t know what the illness is. What do you do? You go there, open it, pick anything from there and give it to him.
This is how the goal ridden mind is operating.
Let’s verify the truth of this. Has anybody, you, me, or anybody else, ever chased anything that is different from what the rest of humanity has chased? Has anybody ever chased anything that is different from what the rest of humanity has chased?
So the point that we have a limited set of alternatives, a limited set of medicines is proven. Money, respectability, immortality, pleasures, that is what we chase? Has anybody ever had any other goal? From the beginning of history, till today, has anybody ever had any other goal? So four medicines actually.
Feeling restless? Chase immortality, “I will never die.” And how do we chase immortality? Have a large firm, have a large house, produce ten kids, or money, or something. These are the four, five, or ten medicines that we have in our cupboard. The moment we feel restless we pull one of them out. That is the environment in which goals operate.
“I feel sick of myself. So what should I do? I should top my class.” “I loathe my very existence, so what should I do? I should mug up all the Upanishads. Maybe that will reduce my self-hatred.” But that doesn’t. Does it? If the remedy were so cheap and so all pervasive, then everybody would have just gone ahead and mugged up the Upanishads and been Delivered. This is not how Deliverance takes place.
So, what is a goal then? An action that arises out of my restlessness. Will we remember this? That is the definition of a goal.
What is a goal?
Each and every thought and action that arises as a result of my restlessness, is a goal.
Ostensibly, every goal wants to get rid of the restlessness.
So very crisply we have said what a goal is, it is an action that arises out of restlessness. Now there can be another kind of action as well. What kind of action? That action which arises out of your peacefulness, not your restlessness. That arises out of your stillness. It may look quite similar to a goal driven action, but just in appearance. Like two people walking on the road, both are using their legs, both may look the same, but at their essence, these two are very, very different. One is goal driven, the other is not goal driven.
And goal driven means—arising from restlessness. So one is arising from restlessness, and the other is not arising from restlessness.
L3: How is it a goal then?
AP: The second is not a goal. We are talking about actions.
L3: But if we look at daily life, we have certain necessities, for our family…
AP: Sir, whatever we really require for our survival, we do it without conflict. Pay attention to this. Whatever is really required for survival, is really done without conflict. Breathing, for example. Breathing is never contrived. Or digestion, in a healthy body. You don’t make a goal to digest the food that goes in. Or simple speaking, or walking. Such is life that what you really need, is provided by existence itself, you don’t have to make a goal for it, it is given, it is Grace. You don’t have to work for it.
The very idea that ‘living comes at a price’ is a very flawed idea. The very thought, “I must work hard in order to survive,” is a very self-torturing thought. You have been born out of this soil, you belong here, and you don’t have to do anything to prove that you belong. You anyway belong! Because you have arisen out of the soil, and the water, and the air, so the soil, and the water, and the air take care of you. They are your father and mother. They take care of you. They are the stuff from where this body has arisen.
When you are talking of needs, you are talking of bodily needs. Right? The body has risen from the soil, and the soil will take care of the body. So don’t worry and don’t worry at all.
L3: Don’t worry means that something blissful, something timeless has come within us?
AP: No! No timeless. Just the soil! What is timeless in soil? The soil will take care of you.
L3: The world?
AP: Yes. The material world. When you are talking of needs, whatever a genuine need is, will always be taken care of.
Where there is a goal, there is not a ‘need’ but a greed.
You don’t need goals in order to meet your needs. Your needs will be met. The earth takes care of your needs. There are the clouds, there are the trees, there are the animals, and they take care of your needs. For your greed, you have to work very hard. Keep working, for that, you need a lot of goals. And even then the greed is never satiated.
Needs are alright. You needed to sit, and see how gravity is helping you. Imagine if gravity is not there, you will have work very hard just to be located at one point, floating here and there.
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Acharya Prashant is an emerging champion of socio-spiritual awakening in the world today. An alumnus of IIT-Delhi and IIM-Ahmedabad, and a former Civil Services officer, Acharya Prashant is an acclaimed Speaker, Vedanta Teacher and author of over 50 books. Apart from that he wears various hats: a veganism promoter, an environmental activist, a science activist, a campaigner against superstition, and a champion of essential human freedom. Know More