The real meaning of spiritual inquiry || Acharya Prashant (2014)

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Question: Desire is the memory of pleasure, and fear is the memory of pain. Both make the mind restless. Moments of pleasure are merely gaps in the stream of pain. If our natural state is joy, then why do we slip out of this state?

Speaker: When you have slipped out of that state, then you should enquire. The only way to learn about a state is to ask the question when you are in the state, or observe others who are not in that state. You will come to know.

Why does anybody slip out of that state? Why does anybody slip out of peace? The primary cause is the body itself. The primary cause is that you are born. Kabir says, “Your first problem is that you are born.” If you are born, then you have created opportunity for conditioning to take place. Start from there. So why is suffering there? Because all this is there.

Suffering is there. For exactly the same reason this wall is there. This wall is there, just as the body is there. This wall is there, using the same faculties that the body uses. So as long as this wall is there, suffering will be there. This wall is there because you are a body. This world is there because the mind is like this. As long as this world is, there is suffering.

Why is all this there? That may not be a very useful question. A better question might be- what is all this that is there? Understand the difference. Whenever you say,”Why is this happening?”, you are being ungrateful. The question of ‘why’ always has a little bit of complaint in it. “Why is all this?” It always has a little bit of rejection in it. It always has a little bit of judgement in it. The question of ‘what’ has love in it. Because you can ask ‘what’ only when you come close to something.

When you say, “I want to know that why something is there,” then you want to know its cause. And the cause is not that thing. So your primary interest is in something else, not in that thing. Your primary interest is in what? The cause. Now you cannot know, because you are not interested in the thing, the fact of the thing. You are interested in the cause of the thing, which is separate from the thing.

But when you ask ‘what’ then you have to come close to what you are enquiring about. Always ask ‘what’, never ask ‘why’, ‘where’, ‘when’. What is life? What is happening? What is mind? What is this thing that I call ‘I’? ‘What’ is direct enquiry? Not ‘why’, but ‘what’? It is a beautiful question to ask. Always.

So I will ask him, “What is ego?” It doesn’t pay much to ask, “Why is ego?” He doesn’t know ‘what is ego?’ how can he answer, ‘why is ego?’ Once you know ‘what is ego’ the other questions vanish. It can be such a good past time. Whenever somebody says, “One must think of his career,” ask him, “What is career?” If someone says, “You are not loyal to me,” ask him, “What is loyalty?” And you will start discovering.

Why don’t we know? Why do we suffer? Because we don’t enquire. Because we take things for granted. Some good old religious man has said something, so it must be true. We don’t enquire. Fearlessly we do not go to the fact. What is it? We have hopes, and our eyes are obfuscated with hope. What is this? Don’t be swayed by emotions. Don’t become involved too easily. Ask, “What is all this?” The world may be panicking around you. There may be a great commotion. The entire crowd may be rushing somewhere. You stop for a while, and ask, “What is all this? What is all this?”

Your own mind may be feeling completely for something, or against something. Don’t just say, ‘This is what I want to do.” Ask, “What exactly is this happening? Why am I acting this way? Do I really know what I am doing? Do I understand?” When you utter words, ask yourself, “What is this that I have said. Do I really understand any of these words?” And then you are home. The moment this enquiry begins – what is this- you start finding the mind relaxing into joy. That is joy, mind’s natural state.

Mind has a kind of new-found confidence – fearlessness. Even in your worst situations when you ask, “What is this?” you will find that the mind has started smiling. Try this. Whatever be the situation, when you ask, “What is this?” you will find that you are now separate from the situation. Something has changed. The moment you ask this question you will find that something has changed. You are no more the same mind. Something has changed.


Listener 1: What if we do not get any answer?

Speaker: There will be no answer. There will only be settlement. A few words may keep coming from this side or that side. But when you are in the process of asking, ‘what is this?’ you will not let those words escape your scrutiny. You will ask, “So what is loyalty?” and a few words will come. “It is a sense of commitment. It is that contract,” and then immediately you will say, “What is commitment? What is a contract?” After a while you will start seeing that what is all this. It will start settling down.

Answers may come, answers may not come. It is complete attention on what is happening. It requires a lot of energy. You must be resolved. Otherwise this won’t happen. Let us say you are feeling deeply sexually attracted towards someone. In this moment it is very difficult for me to ask, “So what is this?” To do this, it requires great energy. You must have that resolve that – “Let me see. What is this?” Conversely, is someone is feeling greatly sexually attracted towards you, and are just rejecting all the overtures. At that moment requires great energy to ask, “Why? What is all this?” It requires a very courageous mind to do that.

Speaker:  It never ends anywhere. It does not need any special occasion. You might just be travelling, sitting in a car. And then you ask, “What is all this exactly?” It is so fascinating that even the mind wants to be relaxed. This question relaxes the mind.

Listener 1: This can only be done when something is happening right now. What about the moments when we are thinking of the past?

Speaker: The memory is coming to you right now. The event may have happened whenever it happened, but the memory is coming to you right now. Ask what is all this? But you will not ask this, if the memory is pleasant. The memory is so fascinating, who wants to turn away from the memory and instead ask, “what is all this?” The memory is so pleasurable that who wants to ask, “what is all this?”

Listener 2: Sir you said tendencies are more dangerous than thoughts. What duration of this practice, will destroy tendencies?

Speaker: We are not saying that this is a practice that you do for this time duration. We are saying that whenever, at whatever moment you wake up, at whatever moment you find that the mind is getting deeply involved, then ask, “What is all this?” If you remember to ask, chances are that you will forget. Because when the mind is involved in something, how can it remember to ask ‘what is this’? There you can only pray, “May I remember at the right time.”

The entire game is that we must remember at the right time.

Do you remember the great warrior of Mahabharat, Karna? He was a great warrior. What was the curse that had fallen on him?

Listeners: That he will forget all his knowledge when he will need it the most.

Speaker: You are all Karna of Mahabharat. You remember everything, you know everything, but not at that moment when you need it. When you need it, then it is gone.

– Excerpts from a Clarity Session held at Advait Sthal. Edited for clarity.

Watch the session at: The real meaning of spiritual inquiry

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