In the exam of life, no question is ever repeated || Acharya Prashant (2014)

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Question: Sir, I would like to ask you a question. What is life and why is it so important to live a worthy life?

Speaker: Life is not some unknown quantity outside of you, mysterious, something to be reached or attained. I am sure none of us sitting here want to say that we are not alive. Anybody here who claims that he or she is not alive? We are alive, all of us. All of us are surely, well and truly alive. Are we not?

Listeners(everyone): Yes, Sir.

Speaker: Then there is the complication. If we are alive, then this is life. Or is there any doubt in our aliveness? If you are alive then when are you alive, and where are you alive? How many of you are alive right now in the United States? How many of you are alive on Mars or Jupiter? This is where you are alive. Right? If you are alive, then when are you alive? How many of you can take a couple of breaths in the future? How many of you can take a couple of breaths in the future? If you’re alive, then you are breathing…?

Listeners (everyone): Right now.

Speaker: A man was breathing two days back. Would you call him alive?

Listeners (everyone): No, Sir.

Speaker: He is qualified to be alive only when he is breathing today. Neither can you breathe in the future nor does breathing in the past qualify or entitle you to be called alive. So what is life? We are alive and this is where and when we are alive. Hence, life is a very straight-forward matter, it’s so simple that we can miss it. And so simple that we feel like complicating it. This is life. You’re sitting over here, this is life.  You’re sitting with your arms folded, this is life. You’re sitting in attention, this is life. You’re sitting and thinking, this is life. Whatever this is, is life. Then you asked, “What makes life worthy?”

The quality of lifeThe quality of this moment decides the quality of life. If this is life, then the worthiness of this moment is the worthiness of life. Is it not so?

Listeners(everyone): Yes, Sir.

Speaker: Now in this very moment, some of you are deeply absorbed in attention. Your faces clearly tell that you are here, present. And in this moment it is possible that some of us might be thinking of this and that. Someone may already be writing the test that you have to write three days hence. Someone may still be stuck with an incident he or she had in the morning. That is the quality of that person’s life. What is the quality then? If life is this moment and the mind is wandering somewhere else, then what is the quality of life? Poor, bad and not present at all. You have to write a question paper. You have to respond to a challenge. What kind of answer would you be writing if you are not present to write the answer? Imagine this situation. The question paper is lying on your desk. The question paper is a challenge. It is demanding a response from you. Is it not?

Listeners(everyone): Yes, Sir.

Speaker: The question paper is there on the deck, but the chair is vacant. Now can there be any response?

Listeners(everyone): No, Sir.

Speaker: If life is this moment, and this moment has its peculiar, new, fresh, demanding challenges, then you must be there,on the chair to answer the challenge. What does it mean to be on the chair? It does not mean that you have brought your physical body to the chair and kept it there. It means that you are well and truly there. And that is the worthiness of life. To be well and truly in it. “Yes! The moment is there and I too am there. I have not made some kind of proxy arrangement.” What does a proxy arrangement mean? “I am not present. I’m not applying my mind to the question paper. Instead there is the data base of memory from which my responses are coming.” You see, there are two ways to not respond adequately to the question-paper of life. One is to miss the exam altogether. The question paper is there on the desk and the chair is vacant. We talked about that. But if that happens, then it’s a relief because you can see that you are not there. It is a very gross event, you cannot miss it. Usually what happens is that our absence is not so gross. Our absence is subtle. In what ways is it subtle? That physically the body is present but the mind is not there in the paper. How will you respond to the question paper? Let us say that there is a problem in mathematics. Will you say that I have already solved a problem like this earlier and let me just repeat the answers? It is a very poor question-paper then. Life is a far more clever question-setter. It does not give you questions that have been asked in the previous years. It always gives you new questions.

Exam of lifeThose who live by memory, those who live by tradition will not get good marks in the exam of life. But what do we do? The question paper has come and I don’t want to apply myself fully in it. I say, “I already know the answers. Previous year such a question was asked and my seniors wrote those kind of answers. So, this too must be a similar question. And let me just repeat the answers my seniors have been writing.” And those seniors include an entire variety of people. When you feel inferior, then everybody else becomes senior. That’s the definition of senior. So everybody else then becomes a guru, a guide, a prophet because you then lack a real consciousness of your own. So you hear something from the family, you hear something from the neighbours, you hear something from the media and you want to repeat those answers. What will be the quality of those answers? Last year a second order differential equation came and this year the question paper contains a third order equation. And what kind of answer are you writing?

Listeners (everyone): Second order equation.

Speaker: Assuming that this is the same question that has been asked since centuries, do you see that your answer will then not be worthy? Do you see that?

What is life? What decides the worthiness of our life?

Your presence. Your being well and truly into it. That is what decides the worthiness of life.

But that worthiness is not really life’s worthiness. It is your worthiness. So don’t ask, “What makes life worthy?” Ask, “What makes me worthy?” If you are worthy, then life is worthy. And worthiness requires the courage to look at things very, very afresh, to not to depend so much on memory but instead work in attention, instead work in presence. If you’re listening to me right now and still utilizing memory, then it would be very difficult for you to get what I am saying, to really connect, to really be present along with me because memory is still functioning. Memory is substituting for your presence. That’s what is called as proxy-attendance. “I am not here, my memory is here.” Do you understand memory? The entire store-house of the past. So there might be somebody here who is hearing a few words and then comparing it to what he or she has heard earlier before. This means that you are not truly present. Do you know what you are doing? You are looking at the question paper and trying to figure out whether you have looked at such a question earlier. Have you seen such people? The moment they come across a question, they try to remember whether they have seen that kind of a question before. You too might have done it sometimes. Have you done it?

Listeners(everyone): Yes, Sir.

Speaker: You see a question and what do you try to do? You try to relate it to a question that you might have previously solved. Have you done that sometimes?

Listeners(everyone): Yes, Sir.

Speaker: It is very tempting. Is it not? You feel that this would make things easier. “Oh! I have already solved it.” And you feel kind of confident if you can remember that this is not an entirely new question. “I have seen such a question before.” You feel comfortable. Don’t you?

Listeners(everyone): Yes, Sir.

Speaker: But that makes the entire thing dead. Because now what is functional? Memory is functional. And memory is dead. Any instrument can have memory. Computers have memory. And even the most basic computer has far more memory than you can ever have. Forget about a computer even a camera has more memory than you can ever have. So to live by memory makes life unworthy. To live by understanding is what makes life live-able. That is called consciousness. That is called presence. That is called intelligence and understanding. They all point towards the same direction. You are young; the courage that it requires can easily be summoned by you.

To really live a worthy life requires one to be fearless. Only a fearless man will not need unnecessary support of the past. The man who is afraid always relies on the crutches of the past. You do not need to do that. I see healthy bodies in front of me. And your eyes are glowing with the light of intelligence. You/ surely can muster that courage. “I do not need a proxy kind of presence. I can be well and truly present.” And that is the worthiness of life. Is the whole thing somewhat clear? Is it making some sense?

Listeners(everyone): Yes, Sir.

-Excerpts from a Samvaad session. Edited for clarity.

Watch the session at: In the exam of life, no question is ever repeated

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