Ego is easily exhausted while compassion provides continuous energy || Acharya Prashant (2015)

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Question: I want to become more attentive, calmer, and more efficient in my work. It is said that tendencies melt with time, but nothing seems to have changed in me.

Speaker: When you say, “You want to become more efficient, you want to become more attentive, more calm”, is it not something that you demand for yourself ? Something that is in your self-interest? Something that pleases you, furthers your own cause?

You must be able to distinguish between two types of works, two types of activities. When you say that you are doing something in order to ‘fatten your bank balance’ or ‘take care of your family needs’ or ‘gain a particular position in society’ or ‘fulfill your own expectations or the expectations of your friends and acquaintances’, when you work with this objective in mind, then you can have a source of energy, a source of progress that is totally self-centric and this source will serve you well. What you want will be taken care of.  If you want to rise ‘high’ and prove a point to the world, then your own ego and the energies of ambition and comparison can easily provide you with the fuel through which you can rise. In fact, those are the only sources from where you can get the energy to rise.

But in your question, if I read it correctly, you are referring to the work that you are doing here, at Advait. If you are talking of becoming calmer in the work of self-transformation, in the transformation of mankind, then the energy cannot come from the objective of self-improvement.

Please understand this very carefully.

When the ‘self’ is the center of all your efforts, and your action and the reinforcement of the self is your primary objective, then the self itself will provide the energy. And you can get a lot of energy from there. Most of the movement you see around yourself, most of the energy of this world, all these people going to their offices, laboring hard, competing, prospering, toiling, coming back, all of that is energy of the ‘self’. When I say ‘self’ I mean the limited self, the ego. And for these purposes this energy will serve them well.

But if you are talking of something bigger than yourself  then the energies of self-improvement will not take you far, because very soon it becomes difficult for one to see how any ‘self-improvement’ is contained in self-annihilation. Hence the energy, then, has to come not from a center of ambition or comparison, but from a center of compassion.

You want to shine your ego, you want to shine in the world? Then let ego provide the energy. But if you really want to progress on what you commonly understand as the ‘spiritual path’, then the energy cannot come from your self-centered endeavor. You cannot say that this will lead to ‘my’ own personal betterment because there is hardly any ‘personal’ betterment involved. Provided, unless you say that the dissolution of the self  is a kind of betterment of self. That is very difficult for most people to say.

What is this energy of compassion that I am referring to?

You go out, you look at the world around you and there is nothing there that the world can really offer you. You see that the world is wallowing in its own sicknesses, in its own troubles. Look at the faces of people in their families, look at the faces of people in the markets and you are struck by the great wave of ignorance and sorrow that has fallen upon everybody. Except that, it is being hidden and decorated by its opposite sense of excitement. You see how glitzy, shining and attractive every man-made thing and institution around you has been made out to be. Look at little kids, you see that they might be only four years, six years old but many of them are already beyond redemption.

And the kid has nothing to offer you, the man, and the woman, who is himself deeply caught and stuck, has nothing to offer you. There is no way they can assist you in your journey. You realize that very well.

But it is a clear realization of their condition and a deep sensitivity to the state of the world as it Is. It is from here, that one gets his motivation, his energy.

And let me assure you, if this source of energy is not available to you, then you cannot move very far. Of course, if your objective is just to gain some money and a house and personal riches, you can do that and in your own mind you might be entitled to call yourself a ‘success’.

But those who are a part of a broader mission, those who consider themselves enrolled in the task of looking at something bigger, beyond and broader than themselves, they will not be able to sustain themselves in their task and in their mission, if they are driven principally and only by a desire to gain something personally for themselves. That is the reason why we see so many people falling along the way.

They simply run out of the fuel, they simply run out of motivation. They start wondering – ‘why they must be doing anything, when it does not further their own self-interest’. And they are right, because you may have begun with a feeling that you will at least get a name, if not money. Or even if you don’t get a name you will at least get some kind of ‘inner satisfaction’. But very soon, you realize that that is not the case. The image of ‘inner satisfaction’ that we have, that kind of satisfaction is not really provided by the work we are doing here at Advait.

If at all, it is a ‘satisfaction’, it is satisfaction that demands a lot. So unless your concern is a little beyond yourself, the inevitable is surely going to happen with you. As we said, you will run out of fuel. A thousand arguments will starts popping up in your mind, you will start asking yourself – ‘why you should be doing what you are doing?’ You will start calculating and seeing whether you are ‘gaining’ anything at all. And most of the times when you calculate you will only find that, at a personal level, there is hardly anything that you are gaining.

The moment that conclusion comes in front of you, your tendency to stop and to change tracks will only deepen. So, I am advising again, that even if you have a real desire to do better, to keep calm, this desire will not be carried forward for long, neither fructified by self-centered motivation.

Unless you feel deeply connected to the world around you, to the environment, to what is happening on the roads, to what is happening in the offices, and in families and markets, unless you have a deep sense of real connection and compassion with these, you will not have the energy, the motivation, the very ‘thirst’ to continue for long.

And these are unreasonable things.

Fire_HeartRemember that whatever be the ‘reason’ that propels you, reasons ultimately come to an end. There is no reason that is infinite and if you want to do anything really substantial, really meaningful in life, then it cannot be driven by reason, it cannot be driven by a tangible goal. It can really only be driven by a very unreasonable fire in the Heart.

You look at the face of a kid and the kid is well-to-do, the kid is well fed, probably goes to a nice school, is being trained in all kinds of worldly ways by parents and teachers. You look at that kid, yet looking at that kid you realize that something extremely monstrous is taking place here and a chill runs down your spine and it’s a very unreasonable thing; you are not really connected to that kid in any kind of tangible or discernible way.

In the mornings or in the evenings, as you stand and you listen to the traffic, or as you stand in the middle of a shopping mall and listen to the loud music blurting out of all the music systems that are supposedly installed to ‘entertain’ the crowd, or you stand by a hill-side and you look at all the man-made construction, rather man-made devastation there; that is what pushes you. Not a localized, personalized sense to gain something for yourself, not a desire that tomorrow you will be remembered, that you will shine, if not in others’ eyes then at least in your own eyes, not that kind of a thing.

So many people set out with so-called ‘spiritual objectives’ in mind and most of them, an overwhelming majority, just get distracted and reach nowhere. The reason is this: There is a deep difference between shining the ego, dressing the ego, reinforcing the ego and annihilating and dissolving the ego.

These two are activities that are not only opposite or different but actually which belong to different dimensions of being. Any seeker of Truth, whoever asks himself this question, “What have I gained in all this?” Any seeker of Truth, who ever asks himself this question, will not be able to continue for long.  Anybody who is involved in anything beyond himself, if he has the tendency, the opportunity, the very time, to count his own personal wounds, such a man will not be able to carry on further for long. He would end up feeling wronged and bitter. He would say that he tried his best, but the world is such an evil place, that nothing went right for him. In fact, he would act as a bad example and only spread the message that the road that he took is a useless, unprofitable road that leads to a dead-end.

And there are many such people around who are very eager to serve as examples, to serve as some kind of teachers to others. They say, “Look at us; we tried; we devoted so many years of our life and look what has become of us. Do not emulate our example, do not become like us, take care of your life. Do not become so blind that you totally forget yourself, otherwise you will repent later on.”

So do not ask too many questions pertaining to yourself, your self is so limited that it cannot help you for long. It can only be a hindrance. I am repeating, a deep source of energy is there, but that source is not your ego. If you define yourself as the ‘person’ then that energy will not arise from within the person. If you define yourself in terms of your identities, in terms of thought, then those energies will not be provided by thinking. That great inexhaustible well is very close to you, but lies outside of you, in terms of how you define yourself. It is very much accessible and it never really gets depleted.

But it is not exactly where ‘you’ usually stand. You will have to move a little bit away from yourself. In spiritual parlance, this moving away from yourself is also called as coming close to your Self.

Listener 1: Sir, regarding the monstrous things being done to children – Sir, yesterday was Independence Day, and I saw that parents, even in my very own family, were forcing kids to wear flag colored clothes, taking their pictures and sharing them on social media and I found this extremely disturbing. Something very deep, very poisonous is getting into the minds of young children. They don’t have any idea about ‘what a nation is’ and they are being forced into the concept of a nation. And if tell the parents to not to do this, they get shocked. They talk behind my back and say that I have started talking ‘negative things’. They are so deaf that they do not listen to anything. Sir, I cannot see these things happen to them, especially to those people who are close to me, but whenever I try to talk to them about such things, they either call me a fool or laugh at me. Is there any way of telling them, so they might listen?

Speaker: See, you are already doing what you ought to be doing, right? You are already thinking about it, you are already giving importance to this thing. There is just one note of caution here – whenever you will try to do something, whenever you will try to say something to them, there would be a backlash. You have already talked about it, you have said how they say that, “You are talking negative”. That backlash would be the moment of test. That would be the moment when it would be asked of you, whether the child and welfare of child is more important to you or is your sense of personal hurt more important to you. And that is the only way you can be made to stop, right? By making you feel hurt in a personal way. That is the only way you can be brought back to the center of your ego.

Look at the whole thing, how it operates, there is something happening which is not really your personal affair; that is happening out there, in the society, in somebody else’s home, as you said, on the streets and in the markets. It’s happening somewhere out there and you do not like it. You know that it is not auspicious. You know it will only lead to destruction for all concerned. So, you go there and you want to interfere, you want to do something about the state of affairs. As you see them and you are acting not with a self-centered motive, you are not acting from the center of your petty ego. How to stop you?

The only way to stop you is by bringing you to that self-centered point from where the rest of the world operates. Hurt proves to be a useful tool, make the man feel hurt. Push him back to the point from where he has to necessarily think about himself. Make him ask this question, “Why am I doing all this? How am I related to the kid? Why should I suffer so much for somebody else?” Make him ask this question. Bring his concern back to his own security and respectability.

So, that is the challenge you will face. Are you getting it? Compassion does not mean experiencing a sorrow for one self. In fact, if you are feeling self-pity, if you are feeling bad about your own condition, then you cannot be compassionate towards others. Compassion can arise only when first of all you have a deep sense of inner rootedness and health. When you are absolutely sure that there is nothing wrong with you, very sure that there is nothing wrong with you. Only then can you go out and have any kind of meaningful, auspicious effect upon others.

Listener 2: Sir, you said that going away from your small, petty self is similar in the spiritual parlance as coming close to your Self. But what happens is that the lines are so blurred, that you are not really sure that when you are coming close to your Self or you are actually working from your egoistic center.  So, how to see to that? How to make sure that you not, again and again, falling down to that same egoistic self?

Speaker: That is not a question of ‘falling’ down there. The question is, “Did you ever leave that point?” The question of falling back arises only to someone who has ever been able to leave that point. Leave that point, leaving that point is beyond all that you have experienced so far.

Joy_CompassionCompassion for others is Joy for oneself.

Yes, the world does try to push you back to a position of self-interest but there is something that sustains you; you are not so easily pushed back.  That something cannot just be talked about; it has to be lived and if you are living it, then it has its own momentum, it has its own pull, it has its own mystical attraction. So, do not be so worried about being pushed back. The first question should be – “Have I ever left my position of self-interest and self-centeredness?” That should be the question. Do not ask questions in advance. Do not ask questions about states that you have never reached at all.

Listener 2: Sir, how do I know that I have left that center or that I am at least moving toward leaving that center?

Speaker: Everything that you do will indicate that. What are you thinking about all the time? What are your questions about? It is obvious, evident in every single action that you do. Is it about the world that you keep thinking? You are thinking about your personal pleasures and profits and gratifications. “How can I have a good time, how can I maximize my pleasures, how can I reach my objectives?” When the mind is full of these concerns, then it is but obvious, that you are operating from your petty center. And you might be doing quite well there, but I am cautioning, that you won’t be able to continue for long, because the center of self-interest demands exactly that – a furtherance of self-interest. And you will not be able to see any self-interest in giving yourself up for the world. There is no self-interest involved there, so you’ll hang up your boots. You’ll say, “Why am I doing this?”

Work for yourself and you will not be able to work even for yourself. Work for others and you will be able to work for others and for yourself.  The punishment of those who want personal welfare is that they will not get even personal welfare. But want it for everybody, everybody gets it and you get more than you had ever desired for yourself.

Look at the situation of most people. See how they crave for motivation and see how exhausted they appear, even when they are working for their personal upliftment and yet, they seem to be so depleted of energy, why? You would wonder, that after all, this man wants something good for himself and if he want something good for himself, then he should have the energy and the motivation. So, why is he unable to proceed? Why does he seem so dry?

This is the reason – Mankind is one. All life, animate and inanimate is one. There can be no personal ‘upliftment’. Nobody can cross the river alone. We all are in it together. Anybody who tries to act as a fragment and tries to be emancipated as a fragment, will find that fragments are false. Those who have the dream that they will be able to save themselves and along with themselves, their loved ones, friends and family even as the rest of the world sinks and burns, they will find that this is an impossible dream, that this is not going to ever happen. When the entire world would be burning, your own little ‘cute’ house is not going to be spared. In fact, the fire that burns the entire world is already there in your own house also.

Try to spend a lot of energy. Spread yourself very very thin. The more you will give, the more you will develop the capacity to give. It’s a strange mathematics – Those who try to conserve, they find that they are always short of what they are trying to conserve. Those who are willing to give, find that, miraculously, they keep on discovering more and more to give.

Listener 3: Sir, when things start becoming a little clear – in terms of looking at what is going on in the world – then a lot of times it happens that tolerance towards others reduces and that makes me feel very irritable towards others, because of the way they are behaving or the way society is behaving. We are also the part of it, but then as my friend (referring to listener 1) was saying, that he tried to stop them but people don’t understand; many a times you drift away as you don’t have any more tolerance for those people. So, how can we still be in their vicinity?

Speaker: You see, compassion is not about ‘good conduct’ toward others. To really care for the other, really feel for the other, from the heart, has hardly any relationship with maintaining pleasurable or moral conduct with the other. Very often people are so completely encased, enclosed in their self-created silos that merely calling out to them doesn’t help. It may be necessary at times, to shout, to even hit and hurt and all that is a part of compassion. In fact, it is cruel, to not to shake up somebody or even beat up somebody when he is lying drunk in a house that is burning. And that is the situation of this world – The house is burning and people are lying drunk inside their own burning houses. In most of these cases, it may really be a part of your responsibility to shake up, even beat up. Of course there are going to be repercussions. The fellow is not going to take it kindly. And that is then, is the test of your Heart. Even as you try to help him, he might hit back or abuse you; how do you take it then?

And this is not going to be an exceptional case, this is going to be the norm. Had people really understood that they are in need of help then they would have been the first to help themselves. People hardly have an idea of their own pathetic condition. In fact, most people feel quite proud of the way they are, they glorify their sicknesses. When you declare a sickness as sickness, a sickness that has been glorified since long as a medallion, as an identity, as an ideology, when you directly address it as sickness, you cannot expect the other fellow to bow down to you and say, “Thank you”. That will be your reward! The question is, “Are you prepared to take their reward?”

There can be no real reason. This is a question worth asking to everybody, “Is there something outside the domain of reason?” You wake up, you eat, you sleep, you go to the office, you earn money, and you have spent a lot of age, is that all that there is to life?

This waking, eating, sleeping, producing of kids, opening of another bank account, closing of a bank account, shifting of houses, planning a baby, planning a job change; is that all that there is to life? And if life is just this much, then is this life worth living?

‘Me’, ‘my’, ‘mine’! “Where have I reached? How much have I progressed? How do my numbers show up? Am I doing better than yesterday? Is the quality of my work improving? What are people thinking about me? Have my mental needs been meet? Have my physical needs been gratified? Can I feel good about myself by saying that this is what I have learned, this is the knowledge that I have gathered?” This whole business of ‘my’ knowledge, ‘my’ gathering, and ‘my’ progress is this all there is about life?”

Your little apartments, your little rooms, your little concerns, your little wardrobes, your little cars, your little sense of ‘me’-ness, this little world that keeps going round and round here (pointing toward the mind), is that all there Is?

And then you wonder why you are afraid. If this is all that there is, then this is going to be taken away in no time and you know that. You collect for the sake of future and if there is one certainty in future, it is death. All that we have just enumerated, death is surely going to take it away and we know that. Will the fear allow us to live? If all that we have in life is vulnerable, to being snatched away, how will we live? And that is why most of us do not live at all.

To live, to really live, it is important that you have something that is beyond death. That is beyond desire. If all that you have, belongs to the world, then the world will take it away. The world gave it to you, you didn’t really have it. Even now you don’t really have it and you live in constant effort, in constant fear to protect, accumulate and increase ‘something’ that is not yours at all and we call that ‘life’!

‘My’ car, ‘my’ house, ‘my’ wife, ‘my’ dreams and how deeply and how intensely and with what concentration and effort we apply ourselves to these things. How can I prove a point? From where will my next house come? How can I take care of my ambitions?

I am not denying that one needs basic sustenance, but basic sustenance has to be basic. It cannot become the ‘be all and end all’ of life. We need to, very honestly ask ourselves this question, “Is there anything in our living that is beyond us?” “Is there anything in our living that will outlast normal human pettiness?” And when I say outlast, I do not say it in terms of time, I do not mean in terms of other people remembering you and raising statues in your memory. I do not mean something in terms of future, I do not mean in terms of time after your death. I am talking of a beyondness right now, not twenty years later.

As you move around, is it just a body-mind complex moving around, hunting for its needs, for food, for water, for recognition, appreciation, respectability or is there a different quality to your movement?

And if that quality is not there, you sincerely need to ask, “Why do we move around at all?”

~ Excerpts from a Samvaad session. Edited for clarity.

Watch session at: Prashant Tripathi: Ego is easily exhausted while compassion provides continuous energy

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  1. thank you, acharya prashant!
    it seems to me that is why jesus said: “giving is more blessed than receiving!” (acts 20:35). the insight that all humankind is one, brings about natural compassion.


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