What is meant by human nature? || Acharya Prashant (2016)

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Acharya Prashant: Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a scorpion that was drowning. One monk immediately scooped it up and set it upon the bank. In the process he was stung. He went back to washing his bowl and again the scorpion fell in. The monk saved the scorpion and was again stung. The other monk asked him, “Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know its nature is to sting?” “Because”, the monk replied, “to save it is my nature.”

The story uses the word ‘Nature’ two times and the two usages, the two expressions, the two incidences where the word “nature” comes, tell us something about the word.

The first time when the monk says that to sting is the scorpion’s nature, he is using the word “nature”, as representative of its physical conditioning, as representative of its biology. You cannot have a scorpion that does not sting. To be a scorpion is to sting.The second time the word “nature” comes, it does not refer to the acquired genetic tendency. The monk says, “to save it is my nature.” You surely can be a monk who does not save a scorpion but you can never be a scorpion that does not sting. Understand the difference.

You can very well be a monk that does not save a scorpion. But you cannot be a scorpion that does not sting. Saving a scorpion is not something the society teaches to the monk. Saving a scorpion is also not something that biology teaches to the monk. Had it been about social training, then the monk would have given it up, upon receiving another kind of training.

Had it been just external training, its force would have been limited. Stung twice, stung thrice, stung the twentieth time, the monk would not try to save it the twenty-first time. And, had it been something physically embedded, then all human beings should have saved scorpions even after being stung; that does not happen.

The second usage of the word “nature” refers to the core of the mind. The second usage of the word “nature” refers to ‘concept-less compassion’. Whenever the society will teach to save, that saving will always be conditional, as all teaching always is-it will be conditional, it will be formatted, it will be predictable.

Kindly do not think that the monk is saving the scorpion because it is the demand of monk-hood. Kindly do not think that his religious education or the commandments of his religious order is what is making him do this.re

Whenever a man does the totally inexplicable, the totally incomprehensible– in other words, in social words– whenever he displays total madness, it cannot be because of social influence. Society makes you go mad, but within limits. Society gives you nothing total. Only the Total can give you anything total.

There might be some instruction manual which may say,”Be kind to animals.” But that instruction manual would probably at some other place also say, “Take care of your body.”

Now neither of these two commandments is complete. Hence they will come in conflict with each other. Whenever two things are incomplete, they will always be in conflict with each other. Only the total and the total can be in harmony with each other. So, faced with a situation like the monk faces here, it would be easy to escape away. You might say- Yes. I am supposed to be kind to animals but I am also supposed to take care of myself. So, no helping the scorpion the third time. In fact, the scorpion is the potential danger, why not eliminate the scorpion? Because I have already followed first commandment twice.

The commandment that said, “Be kind to all living beings.” Now it is time to do justice to the second commandment also and the second commandment says, “Take care of your body.”

So, you will find escapes and excuses. This nature that the monk is talking of is something that comes from nowhere and is also not something that you are born with. It does not come to you after you are born and it is not carried by you at the time when you are born. Because, this nature is so difficult to be understood in worldly terms, hence this nature can also not be violated by anything worldly. The world may do anything, yet this nature remains untouched. It remains untouched by the world because it is not a product of the world.

The world can destroy only that which, in first place, comes from the world.

That, which is your real nature, does not come from your body, neither does it comes from the world. Out of these two usages, the second usage is a purer, more accurate use of the word “nature”. Now we will go into why for both physical conditioning and the essential core, the same word has been used? Why both of them have been referred to using the same word?

Using the same word there, points at the fact that even the conditioning takes place in accordance with something in the nature; nature, that is freedom, compassion, love, joy, truth, all that is essential. Why does the scorpion sting? The scorpion stings for self-preservation. The scorpion stings because it does not want to die. We are using the word “nature” in context of physical conditioning.

Because you do not come from the world of time, timelessness is your nature.

In timelessness, there is no death.

Because timelessness is your nature, hence that, in physical terms, translates into a fear of death, into a dislike of death. Death would mean elimination. And, by nature you cannot be eliminated. That is why the scorpion stings. That is why it is not totally wrong to use the word “nature” for biological conditioning. But for the sake of clarity, use the word “nature” carefully.

Your conditioning is not your nature, your habits are not your nature. Reserve the word “nature” only for that which is central, indestructible, inexhaustible. Is that clear?

Listener: The second kind of nature, are we born with it?

AP: No. We are not born with it, when I said that, what I meant that it is not something of the body. Whatever is of the body, you will be born with it. ‘Born with it’, in the sense that you will be born with the seed of it, a physical seed of it. This nature, this ‘real nature’ is not contingent upon birth and death. It is not there in the genes. Had it been there in the genes, then genetic engineering could manipulate it.

So, I said that you are not born with it. You are born with the body and everything that your genes contain and nothing more. The body will never tell you to get stung by a scorpion ten times. The first time the scorpion stings you, the body will want to retreat. Nothing in the body tells you of compassion. The body only knows self-preservation, not compassion. You go to the fire, the body’s first instinct is, “Withdraw, go back, Protect yourself.”

The same thing happens when you go to a scorpion. Just by looking at the scorpion, the mind remembers the past. The very touch of the scorpion, the body recoils.

Compassion is neither physical, nor mental. Compassion is not a concept. Neither can you be born compassionate, nor you could be educated to become compassionate.

And that is good news.

Those who depend upon birth, upbringing, and education will find it bad news. They will say, “I do not carry compassion at birth, and you are saying I can not get it through education also. Then it means that there is no hope for me. Then it means that compassion can never come to me.” Yes, compassion can never come to you because compassion is your nature. Whatever is your nature cannot be supplied to you by this or that. That is why all search for the fundamental proves futile. Because the fundamental, the core, the natural, can never be given to you. You are so full of it that it cannot be supplied to you and that is why man suffers so much.

He searches for that, which is natural, in places, where it cannot be found. The other monk asking the stung monk, is society and the body looking at the Aatman in wonderment. Just as the second monk is full of surprise, cannot comprehend- why would somebody do such foolishness? What can you get by helping a mere scorpion? And why to repeat your foolishness? The scorpion is so ungrateful. He stung you after you saved him and you are saving him again? The social, biological mind will always find it impossible to comprehend the ways of the Aatman, the ways of nature.

In Vedantic terminology, the first usage of nature is Prakriti. The second usage of “nature” is Aatman. You must understand the difference. It is a limitation of the English language. In Sanskrit, it is understood that the ways of the Aatman, and the ways of Prakriti are different. It is understood that these two are different indeed. So two different words exist-Aatman and Prakriti- Satya and Prakriti. But the English language really does not come from a very rich spiritual background. So it does not even have a conceptual distinction between Aatman and Prakriti.

It confuses and conflates both of them to be one. Hence it gives the same name to both of them. You can give two things, two different names only if first of all you know that they are different. If you do not even understand that the two are different, then you will not give them different names. That is what has happened.But you must know the difference. Is this clear?

L: What exactly is Pravritti?

AP: Pravritti or Vritti refers to tendencies. Tendency is the way of the ego. Prakriti is all this physical manifestation that you see around yourself.; this is prakriti. ‘Kriti” means creation. “Prakriti” means that which is there even before creation. It comes from the terminology of the ‘Sankhya Yog’. There, they talk of two entities that are so fundamental that they were never created. Two entities that always exists. Two entities that are even beyond time. They talk of “Prakriti” and “Purush”, and they talk of nothing that unites them. “Prakriti” is that which just is, all this, the total diversity, all that the mind perceives.

L: Probably, each one of us see that saving the life of the other creature is the part of the essential nature, why so? Why is the life of other beings so important?

AP: You see. Immortality is nature. Immortality is nature in the sense that the clock starts ticking only in the body-mind. And if something precedes the body-mind, then the clock is not ticking yet. No body, no clock at all. So, in that sense, immortality is nature. Death is not nature. In that sense, even birth is not nature. But birth is something that human beings perceive as already happened, so nothing can be done about it-you are already born. Death, on the other hand, is perceived as something that has not yet happened but may happen or will happen in future. So, to death, there is a certain repulsion, a certain dislike.

But, at the same time, the entity that dislikes death, dislikes principally its own death.If it comes to choosing between its own death and  death of somebody else, it would always choose somebody else’s else. So it is not as if human beings always want to save. Man has been eating meat since man has been man. The body is not compassionate. The body says- “Kill, if it necessary for your survival.” Are you getting it?

L: Yes.

AP: Also, at the same time, remember that it is not necessary that when you will be operating from the core, from your essential nature, then your decision would always be in the directions of favouring life. Even then you may decide to kill. So many saints killed, gurus killed, prophets killed. The instruction of Bhagvad Gita says, “Kill”.

Life is nature, but not physical life. Life is nature, but not biological life. Our definition of life is a distorted definition. What we call as life, it is not life, it is “my life”. It has a beginning and an end. It is always under threat.

Watch the Session video:  Acharya Prashant on Zen: What is meant by human nature? The transcription has been edited for clarity.

Editor’s Note: 

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