To know what I am not is to know myself || Acharya Prashant (2013)

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Shri Prashant: The question asked is why must one understand the ego?

So, what is the ego? What have you understood? Forget the rules.

Listener 1: Something which lets us develop ourselves. If we do not have ego, we cannot develop.

SP: Put it in very simple language, look at it directly. Ego is nothing but the foreign influences upon us. All the external influences upon us, they are called as ego, alright?

If I do not understand what is external, what will I also not understand? If I do not understand what is external, there is another thing that I would surely not understand, what is that?

Listener 2: Internal.

SP: Yes, internal. And what is that internal? That is me. If there’s a foreign influence, surely it is affecting somebody, you say ‘my ego’. So, there is an entity called ‘you,’ upon whom foreign influences act, right? The foreign influence is external, correct? To understand what is external is also to understand what is internal.

The moment you are able to identify that all this is external,
you are also able to immediately see what is internal.

Listeners: Internal.

SP: And that internal is?

Listeners: Us.

SP: You, right? Now, look at the course of your life so far, look at the movement of your life so far. You have studied the languages, the sciences, the social sciences, a little bit of economics may be and now technology. But are you the languages? Are you the hills, rivers, glaciers that you studied in geography? Are you the kings and the wars that you read of in history? Yes?

Listeners: No.

SP: Are you simple harmonic motion?  Are you a light wave or a sound wave? Yes, are you?

Listeners: No.

SP: But this is what you have been reading of so far, right? What’s common between all these entities that I have mentioned? They are all external.

This is what has happened in school and college. And what has happened at home? You have been told of the society, you have been given a religion, you have been given a code of conduct, you have been given a set of beliefs, you have been given a nation, a nationality, all of which is again…? (Asking everyone). Are you the society?

Listeners: No, Sir.

SP: You aren’t. Even at home, you have always been looking at external things, right? Your mind has always been drawn towards the external. Are you getting it? Now, what is more important? You or the external? Are you more important or all these external things that you have been taught and tutored, are they more important? Are you more important or is the English language and electromagnetic effect?

Listener 3: Sir, but learning is also important.

SP: What is more important? You or that?

Listeners: We.

SP: What is primary and what is secondary?

Listeners: We are primary.

SP: You are primary, that is secondary. But never in your 15 years of education and 18-20 years of life, have you been told to look at yourself. Everyone else is important. The society is very important, the books written by others are important, the rules made by others are important, the laws given by others are important, the examination paper set by others are important, the degree awarded by others are important. You are not important. Gain all the knowledge from outside, but you are not important. You are just like a vessel, in which all the external has been…?

Listeners: Poured.

SP: Poured, filled up. Is that what you want to be, just a vessel in which all the external is been poured, day in and day out?

Listener 2: But Sir, if we pour all these in the vessel, then the vessel will become important, basically.

SP: So, you think that you are not important, the external makes you important?

Listener 2: Without knowledge, no one can think.

SP: Can there be knowledge without you? If you are not there, can there be knowledge? First of all, do you see that you are more important than any of these, that your own intelligence is more important than any of these?

Let me ask you a question. There is a vessel that has been filled up; that’s your mind, by external knowledge. You are just receiver, just a receiver of all external influence. And there’s another one, he is a generator, out of his own intelligence. Which of these two is more valuable? The one who just keeps receiving, like an empty vessel, or the one who also has the intelligence and the creativity to generate?

Listener 1: Sir, a vessel and a generator, they are two different things. They are not the same thing. If you are saying that the vessel can make something in itself, it is not possible.

SP: First of all listen clearly.

Listener 1: Sir, a generator cannot generate anything without diesel unit.

SP: Wait, wait. There was a first man who discovered gravity. Was he relying on the past or the external influences? Apples have been falling since centuries. Which external diesel was he relying on? He was relying only on his own observation and intelligence, which a vessel cannot have. Vessels like us, are just slaves, who are totally dependent on all that external that has been poured into us.

How many of us prefer to be slaves of that nature? How many of us prefer to be slaves?


To identify the ego, to understand the ego, is to understand that in my life there is nothing called me; there’s only all the external that has been filled in me. And I’m hiding beneath all of that, I’m hiding beneath all of that.
To identify the ego is to identify myself. To understand the ego is to understand myself.

Are you understanding this?

To understand the ego is to understand myself.

I never tire of saying this to my audiences that all your education, put on one side, and this single course put on other side, would still outweigh the rest of your education, would still be more important than the rest of your education because you are more important than anything else. You are the primary, you are the subject, everything else is an object with respect to you. But the problem is, we have been so deeply conditioned, slavery has gone so deep into our psyche, that even at a young age, we have become unable to even believe that freedom is possible.

You see, if you take a bird and you put it in a cage for too long, then even if you open the door, do you think it flies away?

Listeners: No.

SP: It’s a common observation that it will still stick there. Not only that, if you put in your hand and try to liberate it, it will bite your hand, it will say, “I don’t want to be free”.

You will say, “There is this wide open sky and you have wings and you can fly”. It will say, “No, I am safe here, secure here. There is this thing which protects me. You will say, “It’s a cage”. It will say, “It’s not cage, it’s security. It protects me from the cat and the dog. It’s security, it’s not a cage. Further, my master feeds me twice a day. I don’t have to do anything, I get free meals”.

So, slavery becomes very dear to us because slavery offers security. Slavery offers security. But remember, slavery is not your nature. All slavery is external, all slavery means an external master is controlling you. All slavery means that you have forgotten who you are, and have become dependent on the outside. You are being controlled from the outside. Getting it?

Listener 5: Sir, what have you said is, anything that we learn is external. Then what you are teaching us is also external!

SP: It is surely external and it will contribute to your conditioning, if you approach it the same way as you have approached education and upbringing the rest of your life. Now, how you approached education so far? We have approached education as an authority. All education has been about external things and it has never said, “See, what is happening in your mind”. Never pointed towards the mind, which is the seat of all influences, after all where do all these influences reside? Where do all these influences act? – On your mind! Does geography tell you to look at your mind?  Does history tell you to look at your mind? No.

You are coolly unaware of what is happening within? Now, if the same process continues in this class, that you remain unaware of yourself, and just follow what is being told, then it will be of no avail. But that cannot happen, for a simple reason, that here whatever I am saying is about yourself. But again, if you will not pay attention, then it may become another layer of conditioning, just remain another influence. See, forget about this course. Even a dry leaf falling from the tree, has the power to create some kind of spot upon your mind, because that too is an external event. Just a single word said by somebody conditions you.

You are passing on a road and you look at a hoarding and there’s something written upon the hoarding. That too has an influence. The external is always there. Do you realize this? Wherever you would go, some external elements would always be present. There would always be something external – people, situations, roads, shops, words, scenes; some external thing would always be there. And that external, if not understood in attention, would necessarily condition you. That’s a law of the mind. Similarly, this external has to be paid attention to. Unless that happens, this would remain useless; may even become counter productive. Yes?

Listener  1: Sir, if we realize that what we are being taught here is external, then how are we supposed to judge what Ved is teaching us, and what other subjects are teaching us, are correct or not?

SP: Only through your intelligence. You see, you only have your mind.

Listener 1: Which is already conditioned.

SP: Which is already conditioned, but you are not only the conditioned mind.

When you say, “I’m the mind”, that mind has two distinct entities. One is the brain, which is a product of millions of years of conditioning, all your evolutionary experiences. And it is just a physical organ. So, you could say, the brain is a database plus a software. The brain is a database, which is coming from outside, and a software, which is again coming from outside. That’s what the brain is, plus intelligence. Mind is brain plus intelligence. This intelligence does not come from anywhere, this is entirely yours. It works upon the information that the brain has, it works upon all the external influences that are provided to it, but it does not come from outside. Understand the difference. This intelligence is purely yours, no one can give it to you and no one can take it away from you. It is yours. In fact, to say it is yours is not accurate. It is what you are.

Now how to know? Your question essentially is, “Sir, how to know anything in life? How to find out anything, not only this course, that course, whatever? How to know anything?”

There is only one way to know – To let intelligence operate in attention.

You will see how smoothly the whole thing flows. Now your question will be, “Sir, you say, intelligence is intrinsic to us, it is always there, no one can give it, no one can take it away. Then why is it so that we are conditioned? First thing, why must ego be there? Why must conditioning be there? Why must these foreign influences be able to make a slave all of us, if we are always intelligent?

Intelligence, as I have said, operates in attention. This attention has several prerequisites, there all several enemies of attention that will not allow the intelligence to operate. Remember the intelligence will not go away, it will just remain inoperational, hidden, dormant, dysfunctional. It won’t disappear, it will become dysfunctional. When would it become dysfunctional? If the enemies of attention are not taken care of.

What are these enemies of attention?

They are prejudice, fear, beliefs, bigotry, insecurity, random thoughts. These are the enemies of attention. Till the time these are present, attention cannot be there. Look at the flow. Till the time these are present, attention cannot be there. And if attention is not there, what will not be functional?

Listeners: Intelligence.

SP: So, the only way to know is through intelligence. But intelligence is already with you. So, what is it that you can do, actively do? What must you do? Can you bring intelligence from somewhere, is that what you will do? You can’t, you cannot get it from somewhere. What is it that you can do? You ask, “Sir, how do I judge? How do I know?” What can you do to know? Tell me.

Listener 2: Attention.

SP: What can you do with attention? Buy two kilograms of it and put it in your head? What can you do?

Listener: Think about working…

SP: Think, really? What can you do? Get rid of the enemies, that’s all that you can do. When you are in a situation, you cannot do any positive act. Whenever you want to understand, you need not get into anything extra by way of doing. All you need to do is to get rid of a few things. And what to get rid of?

Listeners: Enemies.

SP: Name them.

Listeners: Prejudice, fear, beliefs, bigotry, insecurity, random thought.

SP: If you approach anything, when your mind is randomly wandering, you will not understand it at all. Is there anybody here who claims that in a last 10 minutes, he or she has listened, even for one minute, very-very carefully, even for one minute, very carefully. Anybody who would claim that, even for 30 seconds?

When you were listening, go to that moment you were listening, when you were listening deeply, carefully, were you also thinking simultaneously?

Listeners: No, Sir.

SP: It’s not possible, right. If you are thinking, then you could not be listening. It’s obvious, to the one, who has been really listening. You can either listen or keep thinking Because this random thought is an enemy of attention. When you are listening, you just listen, you only listen and in that listening there is the dance of intelligence and you just understand. That’s the only thing that you can do. Alright?

Catch yourself when your mind is wandering. Catch yourself when you are afraid or insecure. The moment you catch it, it will drop. It thrives only in unawareness. Like those vampires that you have in movies. The moment light falls on them, what happens to them?

Listeners: Disappears.

SP: They are gone. Similarly, on all these things, random thought, fear, the moment they are caught, and to catch something means to look at it, to throw light at it; the moment you see that it is there, it’s potency reduces. So, that is all that you can do, catch yourself. Now, that is the difference between this course and the others.

All the emphasis is upon you. Look at yourself, look within, find out, what’s happening in your mind? Find Out? Who will find out? Will the teacher find it out for you? You have to find out because your mind is the only laboratory, as far as this course goes. You have to observe it. And in someway it is very-very similar to Science. You see, from where do we get the laws of Science? From where do we get the laws of Science?

Listener 3: By observation.

SP: Yes, by observation. The others, who are intelligent, what do they do? They observe what is happening. Or did they dream things up? Are they coming by their imagination or are they telling what is real, what is actually happening. What does science do?  It tries to observe the nature of the material, in a very unbiased way. You do not say, that I want gravity to be 9.8 meters per second square, do you say I want to be done that? It is like that. What do you do? You just observe that it is the way it is. Right? Similarly, the laws of the mind, the functioning of the mind is understood just by, complete the sentence…?

(Asking the audience)

Listeners: Observing the mind.

SP: Just by observing the mind. Are you getting it? Now, that’s rare, that doesn’t happen in our lives. We remain lost, we look at many other things, but we rarely look at what is happening here (pointing to the head). We do not know why we behave in a certain way? We have no idea of what is going on and why it keeps happening? We find that we are confused, we find that we are often bored, but we do not know, what the whole thing is about?

There is always a particular restlessness, a noise in the mind. We do not know where they come from? Nothing satisfies us fully and we do not know what is that all about. We keep chasing one goal after another and the goals are not stable. Today I have one goal and my mind wanders in one direction. Tomorrow it wanders in another direction and I do not know what is happening? Foreign Influences, come and come and they keep sweeping me off my feet. My mind is divided between these influences. As I said, I am just a vessel in which all these things have been put. Worse still, these different influences keep fighting amongst each other and the battle ground is my mind.

So, parents are pulling me in one direction, this mind in one direction, because one part of it is dominated by that influence, teachers are pulling in another direction, media in another direction, career in another direction, friends and peers in another direction; the result of which is constant confusion and conflict here (pointing to the head) and a feeling that I am lost, directionless. Because I’m nobody and I never found out who I am, all that I know is that there are various influences and that’s what I am. I have no understanding of myself as anything separate from these influences, these pressures, these bondages, all external.

Hence to understand ego is to be free.

Are you getting this?

To understand the ego is also to get rid of the ego. To get rid of the ego is to find yourself out and become a free man. And only a free man takes right decisions in life, with respect to livelihood, with respect to every small thing he or she does day in and day out. The quality of your mind determines the quality of your life. The freedom of your mind is the freedom of your life.

Do you see this? Do you understand this?

And there can be no freedom, till the time, you do not identify these foreign influences as foreign, that this is foreign this is not me.

Getting it? Yes?

Listeners 2: Sir, you said Newton invented gravity.

SP: He didn’t invent.

Listeners 2: He observed gravity.

SP: Discovered.

Listener 2: Yes, discovered. He observed it. And if he didn’t have that ego, then why did he go out and tell people that, “I have discovered gravity”? If he was not that vessel in which external things were poured, then how did he know that there is a force.

SP: What’s your name?

Listener 2: Sir, Rohit.

SP: Alright, we all will pay attention, this is not only his question. The question comes from all of us. So, we will look at it as if it is our own question. See, first of all Rohit, ego is not pride, the first part of your question is that, “Why did he go out and tell everybody?”

You see, you smell some kind of a need for recognition in others’ eyes. Appreciate this, ego is not merely pride, ego is not this sense of ‘others must appreciate me’. If you say that, “I am great”, this is a statement of ego. What have you done? You have taken yourself and tied an external thing to it – greatness.

Equally, if you say that, “I am nobody”, this is as much of ego as saying that “I am great”. You say, “I am brilliant”. Alright, understandable that this is ego. But at the same time, if you say that, “I am a duffer”, this too is ego, because all of this is an external entity. How? How do you know that you are smart? From where does our concept of smartness come from?

Listeners: Someone told us.

SP: Someone told us, right? So, someone comes to me and tells me that, ‘Dude, you are smart’, and I start believing that I am smart, alright? The same fellow will tell me tomorrow that, “You are not smart”. What comes from outside can also go back to the outside. I will always be insecure, the ego is always afraid. Are you getting it?

Ego is not about feeling big, ego is equally about feeling small or little. That is another part. Second part is, this whole business of observation and you need to have apples and all those stuff, you see, why did all the brained people on this earth, not discover that matter attracts matter till a very later stage, after all gravity has been discovered just a few centuries back and the earth has ever been devoid of sharp people. Why couldn’t somebody see such a obvious thing that matter attracts matter, why?

Listener 3: Sir, microscopic.

SP: It’s not about being microscopic, it’s because instead of paying attention, your mind was full of beliefs, and what did we say that belief is an enemy of knowing. If you already believe, you cannot know. Belief is an enemy of attention.

Now, for example, many Indian scriptures believe that earth rests on the back of a tortoise. Now, if earth rests comfortably on the back of the tortoise and I have already believed that, then what is the need for me to find out whether there is any rotation going on and what is the time period and frequency and so on. Let me comfortably believe that earth rests on the back of the giant tortoise. All right, I am believing, and I have my eyes closed now, I know. And then I equally will believe that the sun rotates about the earth and the earth is a flat plate.

Do  know, even Newton was threatened, even Newton was threatened. We all know about Galileo, how he was threatened by the church. But even Newton was threatened that, “You are coming forward with all these things but they are demolishing our beliefs”.

Beliefs are the enemy of knowing. Nobody ever before Newton looked at it with an empty mind. An empty mind is what you require to really understand. In an empty mind, as I said, intelligence dances. You look at an apple and you say, “Oh! It’s an apple, it’s nature is to fall downwards. That is up and this is down, so, this is falling down. What to find out in this? What do you mean by matter attracts matter.”

It’s simple, it’s obvious. This world, direct, simple, obvious, is an enemy of knowing. Are you getting it? Even Newton himself, do you think that it was the first time that he was seeing a stone fall towards the earth or an apple fall towards the earth? He too, would have seen it many a times. Why on that particular day, why only that time, why not before that?

Only a free mind can really knowWhy don’t you ask this question to yourself? Because that was accidentally or deliberately a moment of complete Silence for him. And in Silence, in that emptiness of Silence, there is the functioning of Intelligence. And then you just know, “Oh! This is it”. If your mind is crowded with thoughts, you cannot know. If an apple is falling and I am thinking about my girlfriend, will I know? If an apple is falling and I am afraid that it is a bomb and it will fall down and explode, I am afraid, will I know? I cannot know if my mind is riddled with all those enemies. Are you getting it? Because they prevent attention from functioning. Similarly my mind, add another enemy to it “attachment”. Similarly, if my mind is too attached to a person or an idea, or a belief, then I cannot know. Are you getting it?

If my mind is too attached then also I cannot know. It is impossible. Only a free mind can really know. If I hate something or somebody, I cannot know, If I’m too attached to something or somebody, then also I cannot know. I require complete freedom in order to be attentive.

Excerpted from a ‘Shabd-Yog’ session. Edited for clarity.

Watch the session video: To know what I am not is to know myself || Acharya Prashant (2013)

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