Real confidence – Knowledge or Faith? || Acharya Prashant (2015)

To personally meet or connect with Acharya Prashant: click here.


Speaker: So, it is a nice question to start with. Confidence is something that we want, right? We do not like to be unsure or hesitant. We do not like to be in a situation where we are not certain that we know. That brings us to the word, ‘knowledge’. And as Abhimanyu said, most of us believe that confidence comes from knowledge. So, how to maintain this confidence? By accumulating more and more knowledge. But will that help? Will that quench our need to feel confident at all times? This is broadly the issue that we must discuss.

What is confidence?

Confidence is the belief that I know, that I understand, that I am in control of things, that I can command, that I am on top of the situation. When you feel this way then you say that I am confident, right? That is confidence for us. But one has to remember that firstly knowledge is limited. We are going into the nature of knowledge.

What is knowledge? How does it function?

Firstly, knowledge with any entity is always limited. Even the sum total of all knowledge that mankind has or is ever going to have will not even be a tiny fraction of the total knowledge that can be possibly had. So, knowledge by its definition is limited. That is the first thing about knowledge. What is the first thing?

Listeners: It is limited. (All together)

Speaker: Howsoever much knowledge you have, it is always going to be limited. It may be all right when it comes to facing a particular examination based on a syllabus because even that syllabus is limited. So, limited syllabus and limited knowledge can counterbalance each other. But when it comes to life, is life limited? Is life limited by the boundaries of any syllabus? Is it? So, knowledge can help you face a structured examination. To an extent, it is helpful there. But knowledge is very inadequate when it comes to life because knowledge by definition is always going to be limited. It is an ever expanding domain. And when I say ever expanding, that brings me to the second thing about knowledge.

What is the second thing about knowledge?

The second thing about knowledge is the more you know the more you realize that you do not know. That ‘knowledge is limited’ is not known to those with limited knowledge. Understand this. It requires a really knowledgeable man to know that knowledge is limited. The ones who have little knowledge keep on thinking that they have all the knowledge. Socrates it was, and it requires a man of the measure of Socrates to say that ‘the only thing I know is that I do not know’. Remember, no man lesser than Socrates can say this. ‘The only thing that I know is that I do not know’ and how can he say this? Because he has a lot of knowledge.

So, the more knowledge expands the more it is able to see its own inadequacy. The lesser is the knowledge that you have, the more you feel cock sure. “Oh! I know everything”. The more you have a really bigoted belief, a really obstinate belief, in yourself, “Oh! I know”.

Mahavir had a very nice way of answering certain people. People would come and ask him all kinds of deep questions, questions about life, philosophy, the right action, the right thing to do, reality. They would ask him, “Does the world really exist in the way it appears to be”? He would say ‘probably’. They would ask him, “Does God exist”? He would say, ‘probably’. The next one would come and say, “Sir, does God not exist”? He would say, ‘probably’. Not on all occasions but with certain people as a means to bring them to realization. Syāt (Sanskrit: “may be”) ‘probably’.  And this came to be known as Syādvāda; ‘probably’. When you reach the height of a Mahavir then you realize that it is all just ‘probably’ or you can come to modern physics and go to Schrödinger. And what does he tell you?

Listeners: ‘Probably’ (In unison)

Speaker: ‘Probably’. Does the electron really exist where I think it is? Well Sir, ‘probably’. Depends on with what precision you want to measure its velocity. You want to be very precise about its velocity, then you will have to be less and less precise about its location. ‘Probably’. But only a Schrödinger can say that. You require to come to modern physics to realize that all modern physics deals in, probabilities. It does not deal in certainties. Be it Quantum Physics or be it Relativistic Mechanics, there is very little definitive about them. You have eigenvalues and eigenfunctions. You do not get definite answers that the ball is rolling at the speed of 2.2 m/s. ‘Probably’.

So, the more knowledge you get the more stumped you are because your knowledge is telling you that knowledge itself is limited. Knowledge itself is telling you that knowledge is limited. And a point comes when the philosopher or the saint or the scientist; all of them just stand          staring at a giant vacuum where there is nothing known. After all his knowledge, what does the physicist realize? He does not know anything. And that’s the moment when he has absolute clarity.

You know what is clarity?

To be clear of knowledge, to be empty. He has realized that all the knowledge that I have, that does not mean anything because that is really not true at all. I have been looking at the world, I have been talking about objects but I have been missing the subject. And I cannot look at the subject using the same faculty that was looking at the world, the objects. So what do I know? I know nothing. I know nothing. I have missed the subject. Are you getting it?

Now, we are faced with a peculiar situation. First, knowledge is limited. So, you cannot really face life with knowledge. We said you can face examinations with knowledge but you cannot face life with knowledge. Correct? Second, the more knowledge you gather, the more you realize that knowledge is insufficient and that knowledge does not mean anything. So, any confidence that is based on knowledge is always going to be bulldozed by life. Any confidence that is based on knowledge is always going to fall short when it comes to the real challenges of life.

You can do very well in an exam. Get 80%, 90%, 99%, as much percent as you want. But what will you do, all your life will you just keep writing examinations? A very poor life would that be. Wouldn’t it be? You have to live. Really live, right? And to really live you require something more than knowledge because confidence based on knowledge will not help you.

There is another confidence that is not based on knowledge. We are now preparing to enter that. We are now going to come to that. All knowledge is about the outside, right?  And the outside is infinite. That is why we said that in spite of whatever knowledge you gather, it would not even be a fraction of the immensity of the ocean of knowledge that is possible. All knowledge is external. It is an infinite expanse. But there is something about which you can be more sure, which is not infinitely away from you, which you do not have to gather, which is close to you, which is the thing that gathers knowledge and wants to feel satisfied by gathering knowledge. What is that thing? What is that thing within you that wants confidence? What is that thing within you that wants to gather knowledge? What is that thing within you that wants to feel satisfied by gaining knowledge? Can we give it a name? Just for talking. What is that thing within you?

Listeners: Sir, Ego; Fear; Knowledge; I.

Speaker: Give it any of these names. Each of this is as good as the other. I, ego, mind, that is the thing that is always wanting confidence and gathering knowledge, right? That is the thing that sometimes starts feeling a little sure and sometimes just falls apart. “Oh my God! I can’t do much. What is happening”?

That can be known. After all that is the thing that wants confidence, that can be known. That is the root that needs confidence that wants knowledge. That can be known, that can be understood. I can have no control over the world. Things move in a haphazard way. I cannot know what is happening on the road, I cannot know what is happening on a particular street in Argentina right now. What can I know? And the universe is infinite. What can I know? But I can surely know something that is closer to me. What is that?

This (pointing to the head) can be known. All the fear, the lack of confidence, where does it sit? Does it sit in Argentina? Does it sit in some other galaxy or does it sit here (again pointing to the head). You can have knowledge about Argentina. But is your fear residing in Argentina? Where is your fear residing?

Listeners: In the mind (All together)

Speaker: You can have a lot of knowledge about the universe but is your fear residing in the universe or is it residing here (pointing to the head)? Why not know this (mind) itself? There is another confidence that arises from knowing this (mind). I know this. Now, external situations can keep changing. Life can keep throwing its challenges. There may be victory or defeat. Somebody may ask me a question. I may know an answer and I may as well not know an answer. But whatever is the situation, this is my territory, the mind is my territory. This cannot get affected. This confidence does not depend upon knowledge. This second type of confidence does not depend on knowledge. This depends on another thing which let us call as Awareness.

For our purposes, when we say awareness, we will mean self-awareness, knowing oneself. From that, a real confidence comes. Now, the world cannot shake this confidence. And those of you, who often feel short of confidence, must pay deep attention to this. Those of you who experience fear, anxiety, or nervousness must pay special attention to this. You can have very little control over the world. You do not know what the next man will say to you. You do not know what is the next event life will show to you. Preparation will not make you ready to face life, because all preparation depends on some kind of knowledge. It will always fall short and you will be disappointed. You will keep wondering; why am I afraid all the time? Why do situations stump me? I prepare so much and yet when the opportunity comes I am found short. Why?

Know yourself. Know that the mind is hungry for something. Know that to be afraid of someone is to allow the external to take control of you. Know that the more you go towards one end of duality the more you are preparing to go towards the other end of duality. Observe your mind. Look at the patterns. And realise that when you are in a pattern it is so mechanical, and it is moving towards its predetermined end; like a pre-recorded movie. When you realise all this, then the world cannot take control of you. Someone comes and says something to you, and you smile, you say “Ah! that same old game”. You see something and the mind wants to go towards it, you again smile and you say “Ah! the same old pattern here”. In a particular situation you repeat what you have been always doing, you again smile and you say “Ah! the same game of conditioning”.  Are you getting it?

This confidence cannot be shaken by situations. This confidence is not limited. This is unlimited. This is infinite. Some people have called this inner confidence as Faith. This inner confidence that does not depend on knowledge; that depends on self-awareness; this has been called as Faith. Those who will depend on knowledge will be beaten by life, beaten black and blue. At some point in their preparation they will feel very sure, like a boxer feels sure, sometimes, before he enters the boxing ring. He has worked hard, he has rehearsed, practiced. And he enters the ring and the challenger is life itself. Then what happens to the boxer? Beaten and beaten and beaten and knocked out. And it is happening again and again and again, knocked out, knocked out, knocked out. That is the destiny of confidence based on knowledge.

ConfidenceHave an inner faith. Say “Whatever happens, I am alright”. Say that “I know the one who is afraid; he has been programmed to be afraid. Let him be afraid. I don’t want to be afraid”. Say that “I know this crowd, I know why they are moving like this, talking like this, being led in one common direction like this, I know them. I know, I realise this entire game. I realise this entire game, because their mind and my mind are the same. Because I know my mind so I know the mind of the entire universe. The machine is the same, the loading maybe different, the softwares maybe different but the machine is the same, ready to be programmed. So I know what is happening in the shopping mall. I know what is happening in the placement department. I know what is happening in politics. I know what is happening in families. I know what is happening in the movies. I can understand why the traffic moves like this”. The same old mind, stupid, prone to fear and greed. I can see what is happening “Ah! I can see”. This is called insight.

This is not knowledge. This is insight. I realise what is happening and why do I realise what is happening? Because I realise Myself. When I realise the patters of my mind, then I also realise the patterns of the world. I see two kids fighting and then I pick up the newspaper and I see that two nations are fighting and I realise that it is the same age-old tendency. Nothing different, we are violent. We are programmed to be violent. Kids fight and nations fight and when nations are fighting, they are no different than kids. And they are abusing each other and leveling allegations and all those things, just as kids do. Are you getting it?

Now, whatever be the situation in life, good, bad, whatever. It cannot shake you. Remember, I am not guaranteeing against bad situations alone. Usually, when you want confidence, you want an insurance against bad situations, right? You say that when bad situations come, then my confidence should not waver, correct? That when some terrible things happen, even then I should keep feeling confident. That is what we usually want. But when you realise yourself, then you don’t shake whether good things happen or bad things happen. When pleasing events will happen, then too you will realise that what is the point in feeling so happy about all this? If I feel happy when someone says that I am smart and handsome, then I’ll have to feel sad when someone says that I am ugly and idiotic. Are you getting it? Then nothing on the outside will be able to shake you up. It is that inner confidence. Things will keep happening on the outside and you will stand firm and stable like a rock within, like a mountain that cannot be shaken, a fortress that cannot be impregnated. Won’t that be beautiful?

And then you will be able to really relate to the world, then you will be able to really talk to somebody, then you will be able to really have a relationship as well with anybody, anything. Right now our relationships are all based on fear, insecurity, greed, what am I getting, what am I giving, such kind of calculations. Sometimes it is conscious, sometimes it is so unconscious that we don’t even know. But when you know that I cannot be harmed and also no one on the outside can give me something to benefit me, then you can really have a healthy relationship. Be it with an interviewer, be it with your friends, with a man on the road, with animals, birds, skies, family, anybody; really healthy relationships. Is it clear what I am trying to say?

There are two ways to walk into that interview room. One, “I have prepared so much that I will be able to answer any question”. Most probably what is going to happen to this candidate? “I have prepared so much; I can answer any question”. What is going to happen to this candidate? Life is unpredictable. Nobody is obliged to ask you questions that you have prepared. Life is unpredictable. The more you have prepared, the more you feel that the question must come from within the domain of preparation. The more you are prepared, the more you are predicting that the question will be from within the prepared material. Is that not so because you have prepared so much. The more you have prepared the more you are shattered when a new question comes. Do you understand this? And a new question will come because that is the nature of life. It is always fresh and always new. A new question will come, it will be absolutely new. You will have no idea about it, you would have never thought about it. A fresh situation will arise and you won’t know what to do. Because you haven’t prepared for it, you cannot prepare for it. It is impossible to prepare. This candidate will be beaten, knocked out.

And then there is another candidate, he is not averse to knowledge. He has knowledge, but at the same time he is not dependent on knowledge. What does he say? He says whatever happens let it happen. Why should I worry, why should I wonder? I did what I had to do, now let things come. Let things come. But one thing is certain, whatever will come, I will be still. Whatever be the situation I will not be shaken. Whichever direction the winds blow I will stand firm. I will not be greatly elated and excited if the other fellow says, “Wow! You are wonderful” and I will not be disappointed if he says, “Oh! You do not know anything”. I will maintain my composure, my equanimity under all circumstances. Now this second fellow may get selected or may not get selected, but one thing is certain, you will not find him with a miserable face. Do you understand this? You will not find him with a miserable face. Wouldn’t that be beautiful? And let me add something to it. Actually the probability of success is higher for the second fellow who may not have prepared so much but has the faith that whatever happens I am alright. I am not dependent on the world, whatever happens, it is OK.

This reminds me of a particular event from my student life. It was the year 1999-2000, I think. So my own civil services exam got over on 15th of November, then this common admission test to the various IIM’s, this used to be a paper pencil test not an online test, so it was scheduled for the 10th of December. Now till 15th of November I was busy with my civil services exams. I finished the exams, four five days I slept comfortably. And then I said fine, because I’ve filled up the form and it’s an interesting exam, there are these nice questions and puzzles. So let’s write that exam. I didn’t have too many stakes attached to that CAT. So I picked up those few books that you require and I started preparing and I joined a test series with my batch mates in IIT, that test series used to be conducted in IIT itself. So everybody who was writing that test was an IITian. So I would just go and write the test with them, it was a mock test. And whenever I would write that test my rank there would be somewhere in the middle. There were so many of them who were preparing since one year, two years also, minimum six months, eight months and they desperately wanted to go to the IIM’s. So they had worked very hard and they were all talented people, obviously. Some of them were prodigiously talented. So that is the way it was. Then came the 10th of December, so I went in, I wrote the paper, I realized that I had attempted fewer questions than I usually used to attempt. Before that particular year the CAT used to have around 180 questions and you had done well if you had attempted around 140 or 150. I could see that this year I had not attempted as many. So I thought maybe I have not done well. But ok, it is alright.  I came out and then what do I see there, people are crying, sobbing, weeping inconsolably. Somebody is tearing apart his shirt including some of those toppers who used to do so well in the mock tests. So I asked them, “What happened”? And they said, “Don’t ask us, we are devastated, the world has come to an end”. Why? They said the pattern changed. I said, “Really”? Now the fact was I didn’t even realise that the pattern had changed because I didn’t know what the previous pattern was. That was not really there in the mind. So I said, “Yes probably, it has changed. Yes. Then they said, “How much could you attempt”? I said, “I too have not done well, I mean just like you I also have not done well. I‘ve attempted only 113”. Then they started thumping their chests even more wildly. I said, “What happened”? They said, “We could not attempt even 100”. Now it was impossible. It was impossible. I knew some of them, they were really swift as far as IQ goes, and they were really up there, in fact higher than me. There is no doubt. And they had prepared really well. And that I tell you is exactly the reason why they failed. They had prepared so much, when you prepare so much and the pattern changes, then you crumble. And patterns will change. Life will not conform to any patterns.

Sometimes examinations do but even in examinations if the paper setter is wise enough, he will keep changing patterns. It is only a lazy university in which patterns do not change. It is only a very sloppy examiner, a very sloppy college and university where you get the same pattern year after year. Who wants to change? Look at the JEE for example. Do you ever see questions repeated? I do not know what the situation these days is but at least till my time there was no probability of a question being repeated. Life is like that. In fact life is even more unpredictable than that. There at least you know it will be only maths, physics and chemistry. Here it can be anything. You have prepared geography and the question is on biology. That is what life is. You have put on the best of your clothing and it rains. You never know what to do?

Life will make a mockery of all your preparations. I am not saying don’t prepare. What I am saying is let your confidence not be linked to preparation. Prepare but don’t feel confident because of preparation. Just feel confident for no reason. When you feel confident for no reason, that is called Faith. That is called Faith. But it requires guts. When you’re afraid then you want to cover up your fear with preparation. Have you seen this, noticed this? I am so afraid so I want to cover up my fear with preparation. I’ve seen people preparing and rehearsing. I love you. (Enacting of a lover preparing to propose) I love you. (Again enacting of a lover preparing to propose). Now, what is this? And when it comes to the occasion, what do they say? (Enacts as a confused lover who is unable to propose before his lover)

Gone.

(Everyone laughs)

Speaker: What is the use of all your preparation? What is the point? Then you find that your throat has choked and you end up making a fool of yourself. Have you not seen people preparing? Have you not prepared for various things that should be left unprepared? You must ask yourself, have I left any space for spontaneity in my life? Have I left any space for spontaneity? Do you understand what spontaneity is? What is spontaneity? It just happens in the flow. Have I left any space for this? Or do I want things to be rehearsed, preplanned, scripted? If I have to plan for a vacation I will plan two months in advance. Do I just pick up my bike and leave? Have I ever done that? No, prepare well, take ten permissions. Then pack all your luggage nicely. Then conform that the hotels are alright. Then conform that the roads are there and some ocean has not taken them away. Conform that some aliens have not landed in that city. Make sure of everything. And then leave. And then you are called a wise man. See, he has made all the preparations.

Life makes fun of your preparations. Have you heard of this? “Man proposes, God disposes”. They say that God laughs most when man is making plans. That is His pet joke. See, that one is also preparing (pointing to a student in the audience).

(Everyone laughs)

And He is laughing all the time because you are preparing all the time. Mind you, I am not telling you to not to read or not to gain knowledge. I am just telling you that knowledge will do what knowledge can do. Knowledge cannot give you security against your inner hollow. You are trying to fill the wrong hole with the wrong object. If you are unsure and insecure about yourself, knowledge and preparation will not help you. And mostly you want to prepare because you are unsure about yourself. What must come from knowledge, let that come from knowledge. What must not come from knowledge, what must be spontaneous, let that be spontaneous. And you can be forgiven if you don’t have knowledge because we said right in the beginning that knowledge will always be limited. So you can be forgiven if you don’t have knowledge. But if don’t have that inner certainty then you cannot be forgiven.

Even in an interview you would be rejected most probably because you lack something here (pointing to the heart). Knowledge you may lack and that is not a big offense because knowledge can be gained. There was this famous fellow who said “Hire for character and train for skill”. He said skill can come, knowledge can come. We will give you training but what we are hiring is character. Have that. And character does not mean a particular way of behaving. Character really means that inner certainty. The thing called Faith. The thing called Self- awareness. That is character. Clear?

Sometimes people get selected just because they are smiling even after not being able to give five consecutive answers. Five consecutive questions and they do not know the answer and yet they are not shaken. And the interviewer says this is a man! What is he being hired for? His knowledge?

Question one.

Answer: I don’t know.

Question two.

Answer: I don’t know.

Question three.

Answer: I don’t know.

Question four.

Answer: I don’t know.

Question five.

Answer: I don’t know.

Is he feeling ashamed? No.

Is he feeling guilty? No. Is he looking now down at the earth, at his feet? No.

Is he feeling small? No.

Is he feeling arrogant? No.

This is a man. Now, that doesn’t mean that you start trying this trick.

(Everyone laughs)

And there are some who are rejected even after answering all the questions. Because even after answering their face is like (Speaker enacts a miserable face). Now, who wants to hire such a fellow? If I want knowledge, I will Google. If I want knowledge, I’ll hire an encyclopedia. He is full of knowledge but looking at his face in the morning in the office everyday will be a punishment. How can I hire you? And you ask him one question and he does not even know the limit of knowledge. He is going on and on and you are looking at him. But he has prepared so much. He must be able to get something out of the preparation. “Sir, one minute more, I know a little more”. Mr. Google, “Sir, there is another link on page eight”. Will you hire such a fellow?

Especially at your level, it is not knowledge that is important. And more and more the world is moving in a direction where memory devices, external devices will substitute for the memorization function of the brain. You will not need to remember much. A time will come very soon when you will have all the knowledge available in a small chip and your brain can be connected to that chip and that knowledge is available. You don’t need to memorize. Now, what is important in that kind of a world? Is memory and knowledge important? What is important? Creativity is important, spontaneity is important, faith is important. So ask yourself, do I have creativity? Do I have spontaneity? Do I have faith? That is your real asset. That is what will help you. Not memory, not knowledge, not that fake external confidence.


~ Excerpt from a Samvaad session. Edited for clarity.

Watch the session at: Prashant Tripathi: Real confidence – Knowledge or Faith?

To personally meet or connect with Acharya Prashant: click here.

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2 comments

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      1. Meet the Master:
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