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Yog Vasistha Sara, Chapter 3, Verse 18:
“He who does not, like one blind, recognise(lit. leaves far behind) his relatives, who dreads attachment as he would a serpent, who looks upon sense-enjoyments and disease alike, who disregards the company of women as he would a blade of grass and who finds no distinction between a friend and a foe, experiences happiness in this world and the next.”
It gives some characteristics of the liberated one. It says, “He disregards the company of woman, like he would a blade of grass.” So, is that true in the reverse, for a liberated woman?
Acharya Prashant (AP): No. This has to be understood very clearly. “The liberated one disregards the company of woman, as he would disregard a blade of grass as insignificant, as nothing, as immaterial.” It is very proper, hence, to ask about this, because it sounds a little prejudiced.
When a saint says something, he must say it in our language. He is compelled to speak in words that the commons use, for the simple reason that he is communicating to commons. He must use the same language. When he will use language, language will point to objects. We must not think however, that he is talking about objects.
When a saint says, “Sky,” he does not mean the same thing that we do, when we say, “Sky.” When a saint says, “Truth” or “God”, he is not pointing in the same direction in which we point, when we say, “Truth” or “God”. When a saint says, “Understand”, he does not mean ‘analyze’, or ‘conclude’. When a saint says, “Woman”, he does not mean the same thing that we do, when we say, “Woman”. Because we believe ourselves to be material bodies, hence when we say, “Woman”, all that we intend is, “Another material body of a particular gender.” The moment you say, “Woman”, what is it that comes to you? A material image, which is feminine. When a saint says, “Woman”, it is something else.
In Sankhya Yoga, even otherwise also, if you have no background in that – Purusha and Prakriti have been taken as the entire existence. Prakriti, which is this entire world, is taken as the cosmic woman, and Purusha, who is the witness, is taken as the One man. I repeat- this entire world is taken as Prakriti, feminine and the One witness sitting in the centre is taken as the Man. That is why saints have often referred to themselves also in feminine terms.
That is also the meaning of Krishna having sixteen thousand, which represents an infinity, sixteen-thousand wives. Prakriti is diversity. Prakriti is all that we see; it is referred to as a woman. Now, if you are asking whether this quotation applies to a women also, then you are referring to a woman in flesh and blood. We are all women, so it applies to everybody. In spiritual terms, everybody sitting over here is a woman, and the only man is God. So it applies to everybody
Now, there is another way of trying to approach it. All of us are Prakriti, and all of us are potentially the Purusha, the witness, as well. All of us are what we are understand ourselves in worldly and material terms, and all of us are the liberated One as well, that the sage is referring to. So,
In every material man, lies both, a man and a woman. So, your flesh, your body, mind, brain, thoughts, all of these refer to the woman in you and the witnessing pure consciousness refers to the man in you.
In that sense, you too are both feminine and masculine, and every woman is also feminine and masculine.
But then, why did I say that the entire world is just feminine? Why did I not say that the entire world is both feminine and masculine? The reason must be clear. Because the one that you are identified with is a woman. What are you identified with? You are identified with flesh, blood, thoughts, emotions, relationships – that is what we think ourselves to be, that is our feminine part. And when one goes beyond this, then what one remains is the Purush. So it is not quite appropriate to say that we are both feminine and masculine. We are practically, only feminine. Masculinity is something that remains obfuscated, that remains merely a potential.
Now, why is sage Vasishtha saying that the liberated one is as indifferent to women, as he is to a blade of grass? Because in this complete separation of Purush and Prakriti, lies pure Love between these two. The body, which is Prakriti, must keep doing what it must do, and the mind must not try to interfere, there must be pure separation. Let me give you a simple example: The body must decide when to eat, and what to eat. Prakriti must take care of itself. Purusha must not interfere.
When Purusha interferes, then Prakriti becomes dis-balanced. Similarly, the Purusha must not allow Prakriti to influence it. Purusha, as we said, is the witnessing intellect. When it is overcrowded by, afflicted by the influence of the body, then it becomes attached, and all the life decisions, life choices, become distorted.
Hence, if you go into it, what is being said is: do not interfere with the world; the world is Prakriti . Do not mess with the woman, let her be. Today, if you have problems like climate change, problems like the disappearance of various species, over-population, the pollution and heating up of oceans, it is because we have messed too much with the cosmic woman. She must be left on her own to operate.
Do you know how far this is, compared to our traditional models of spirituality? Usually we talk of controlling the body, don’t we? Usually we talk the language of controlling the thoughts. What is being said is totally opposite. What is being said is, leave the body alone. The body is the world. What is being said is, “Leave the body alone, leave the world alone, leave the mind alone, let them do whatever they want to do, don’t mess, don’t interfere, don’t try to control. You stay away, you stay separate” – that is called witnessing. Let them do whatever they want to do, don’t let your sense of fairness, or sense of right and wrong, or sense of morality become the judge.
You must let the world proceed in the manner in which it would. The body has its own intelligence. The river knows how to flow. The birds know when to wake up. The grass is beautifully green on its own. You don’t have to interfere, just as you don’t have to interfere when food gets digested in your guts. You don’t have to interfere with your thoughts. Thoughts keep tormenting us precisely because we resist them, we interfere. The sage is saying something absolutely radical. He is saying, “Let it be. Let the drama continue. You have no obligation to control anything. Your only obligation is to stand pure. Your only obligation is to not to get sucked in.”
And the world keeps calling you, you keep feeling as if you are greatly needed, you keep feeling as if you are greatly responsible towards the world. And when you are greatly responsible, then you are also eager for the credit, and that is ego. The sage is saying that you have no responsibility except one, towards yourself, stay clean. Do you know, what is the solution to all of these problems that man is facing? The solution is not a man-made revolution, the solution is not some institutional activity, the solution is not some planned action by mankind – the solution is that mankind must step back.
If we do not do what we have been doing, would climate change still be there? To stop climate change, do we have to do something more, or do we have to stop doing what we have been doing? Do we really have to do something more? Do we really have to arrange conferences, and decide on this measure, and that measure, and benchmarks, and concrete actions? We have a particular mind, this mind has brought us to this stage. Proceeding on the same mind, would we be able to get a solution to the problem? The mind, and its action itself is the problem. By having more of mental action, how will the problem ever be solved?
Spirituality is not some heavenly mumbo-jumbo. The spiritual man is an intelligent man. He knows how to live. He is intelligent in the small actions of daily life. A spiritual man cannot be stupid. A spiritual man could not be just talking about the big things – Heaven, Love, God, Truth, Joy – and be slipping in his daily actions.
Do we get what the sage is implying?
L: If one looks out of the window, one can see garbage in India. What does ‘Step back’ mean? Does it mean that one stops throwing garbage in the river, and piles it up in his home? What is ‘Step back’?
AP: What we call as garbage externally, where does it come from? Does the action come first, or does the center of action come first? Does the action come first, or does the mind from which the action emanates, come first? What comes first?
L: The mind.
AP: So, would it really be wise to talk at the level of actions, if the mind remains the same? Garbage outside, is firstly garbage inside. So, now you know what I mean by stepping back. By not having garbage inside, you also do not have garbage outside. And if you are full of garbage inside, then the external garbage will only keep changing forms. The Government can come up with the regulation that one cannot have garbage near the river, does that mean that the garbage has disappeared? That only means that the garbage has changed places.
Some of our most intelligent countries are now trying to dump nuclear waste in outer space. So, the garbage remains, it is just that it changes places. Toxic material is being tried to be buried to the depths of the oceans – has the garbage disappeared, or has it just been buried? But it is very tempting, for us gross minds to just want change on the periphery. We do not want a change of the center.
We say, if everything outside is looking as clean and chick, then that means that everything is proper. So if the river side can be cleared of garbage, then that means some real progress has been made. And that is our attitude not only with respect to garbage, but also with respect to our lives. We do not want real change; we only want superficial transformations. When it comes to real change, most of us start shivering. Superficial transformations are alright; I can change my language, I can change my way of walking, I can change my clothes.
Just in the morning I had said that it is so easy to change from executive clothing to spiritual clothing, but does the center really changed? It is so easy to not to be wearing a necktie, and instead start wearing some holy mala, but has the center really changed?
Spirituality is not about gradual changes. It is not an incremental improvement, it is total dissolution, which means a disappearance of the false center, and a movement into the truth.
Are you getting it?
Stepping back means, “I am already doing so much, I don’t need new actions; rather I need to just see what I am already doing.” And what am I doing? I am walking on the street, eating, chatting, sleeping, writing, e mailing, calling, watching, thinking, conceptualizing, I am already doing so much. Stepping back means, not being attached to all this. Being attached to something means, being incapable of inquiry. If I am attached to something, I am saying, “This is me”, and when something is ‘me’, then who will inquire?
If I am the one who will inquire, then I must be a step away from the thing that I want to inquire. If you want to inquire your life, then you could not be attached to your actions, then you could not be defensive about them, then you could not be feeling vulnerable when somebody challenges them. But see how vulnerable we feel, and how quickly we close ourselves, when it comes to daily life.
What happens is that the pursuit of Truth, or the spiritual inquiry, so quickly becomes co-opted by the same ego that wanted relief from itself through spirituality.
L: Can you repeat?
Why does the ego move into spirituality? Because it wants relief from itself. Ego is a burning mass, it’s a restlessness. It wants freedom, primarily from itself. If we dislike something, primarily it is ourselves that we dislike, don’t we? Even when somebody comes and hurts us, it is ourselves that we dislike for getting hurt. It is ourselves that we dislike for allowing the other person to have so much power over us, “Why could he hurt me?”
So, spirituality comes when the ego is not at peace with itself, which it can actually never be. So, we move into spirituality, but real spirituality demands a change in center. A change in the point from where you operate. Now, that is a heavy price to pay. We say, we want all the spiritual goodies, while remaining ourselves. “I’ll remain myself, and I want all the spiritual benefits that there can be.” So, we don’t pay that price. What do we do instead? We co-opt the Truth. We modify, distort the Truth to suit our convenience, and plug it in. And that does not help. That is some kind of self-deceit.
Would it help, if someone were to come here with a set of solid frozen beliefs, let’s say about religion, about life, about livelihood, about relationships, about politics, about anything, let’s say he comes with those beliefs, but he also wants to listen to what is going on here. What would he do? He is fiercely committed to his own little self. But because that self is like a thorn, so he also wants some spiritual ointment. What will he do with the ointment? What will you do with all that I am saying? He will interpret it in a way that suits your beliefs. “My beliefs are sacrosanct, because I am God.” The ego does not agree at anything less than that – “I am God.”
The proof of that is that the ego uses God to serve its own ends. “God the merciful, get me a hot wife.” So, who come first, god or me? I am not saying, “God, do whatever you think is best.” I am saying, “God, do what I command you to do.” That is another matter that my command is in the form of a prayer.
L: Witnessing intellect requires good discrimination capacity?
AP: Discrimination is there only when there is division. Do you see this? Only when there are distinctions, only when there are two separate entities, then you can discriminate. If there is only one, what would you discriminate against what? Now, all the distinctions exist only in the world. Where do you find different things? In the world. So, in the world, lies the mind that discriminates. Witnessing only means that while this game of picking, choosing, dropping, liking, disliking, taking, giving up, will continue, I will be relaxed.
All this game will continue, the menu card will in front of me, I will be ordering something, and I will not be ordering something. I’m ordering, it’s okay. Not ordering, it’s okay. I am not attached to what I am ordering, and I have no repugnance towards what I am not ordering. Even the discrimination is done within Prakriti herself. The Purusha does nothing, he is totally inactive, so passive, just watching, just watching the entire dance of Prakriti, “You keep dancing, I shall watch.” That sounds cool, doesn’t it? “You keep dancing, it’s your job to dance. Mine is to watch. And we shall not swap our tasks. We shall not make a potpourri of these two. You keep doing what you have to do, I’ll keep doing what I have to do.
L: You are saying that Shiva and Shakti are not separate.
AP: Yes. Not separate precisely because Shiva is so still. What will happen if Shiva starts meddling in Shakti’s department? Shakti likes to do this and that, she is the play of energy; does Shiva do anything? What does Shiva do? He sits still. That is their Love. That is their absolute trust in each other. She is not worried what will happen to him, and he is not insecure that she may go out there and get misled, or have an affair. Fine, you go and you do whatever you want to do in the world, the world is all yours. Here I am, sitting on my seat, Mt. Kailash, I shall not budge an inch.
You sit like Shiva, and then you will dance like Shakti. You have both, you are everything. Sit still like Shiva, so that you can have all the energy of Shakti.
There was something that once said, it was in Hindi, but I would still say this: ह्रदय में शिव, तो भुजाओं में शक्ति॥ – It means, when Shiva is in the Heart, then the arms have Shakti. The arms stand for action, so when there is Shiva in the Heart, then there is Shakti in the arms. Shakti incidentally also means power. Only when there is absolute stillness in the Heart, then there is power in the actions, in the arms. Only then do you really live. Only then you are really alive.
L: Sometimes I just recognize the Divine everywhere. I cannot combine that with the idea that the world and the Divine are separated. Because sometimes I experience the Divine in everyone.
AP: Who sees that?
AP: ‘I’ who? Shiva or Shakti?
L: Just something inside me.
AP: The one who powers the recognition is Shiva. Keep recognizing, it’s alright. There is nothing here that needs to change, except man’s mind, except the center from which this mind operates. The world is wonderful, and alright.
L: You are saying that all physical matter is feminine, but it has the potential to be masculine. But in the actual gender of man and woman, do you see any difference in orientation?
AP: Yes. That difference in orientation does not mean much. They are just two ends of duality. See, in the realm of Prakriti, there are just dualities, pairs of opposites. There is day and night, there is black and white, this and that. Similarly, within Prakriti, the cosmic woman, there is also the man and the woman, the male and the female. This male and female, can both be called female.
So you are female man, and she is a female female. Before you are a man, you are a female, before she is a female, she belongs to the cosmic female. The differences that you see in the material levels are just hormonal and chromosomal differences, they do not mean much. They are just like the difference between black and white. What does the difference between black and white mean? Nothing, it’s optical.
L: But yet, the male forms of spirituality often emphasize the Transcendent and the Abstract, and the female forms of spirituality often emphasize feelings, and being in touch with the body.
AP: There are no forms of spirituality. These are just ways to entertain the mind, and in entertaining the mind, one just continues the pre-existing patterns. It doesn’t help. What you are saying is that based on gender, the ways will be different. Then why only based on gender? Then the ways must be different, based on everything else. Based on color of the eyes, height, age, nationality, ethnicity, everything. And they indeed must be different. And they indeed must be different, and hence there is no point talking of those differences.
Even you are not the same that you would be the next moment. So your way the next moment, has to be different from the way at this moment. That way is called right action. Right action for everybody is different at every moment. Everybody could be a male, a female, a child, an old man, a diseased man, a healthy man, and we are all of that. Are we not the diseased man? Are we not the healthy man? Are we not the rational man? Are we not the emotional man? Are you not changing every moment? And if you are changing every moment, then the way that you must have, will change every moment.
There is no point in trying to talk of compartmentalized, definite, rigid, ways. Am I saying the same thing to you as I would say to your neighbor? Are you saying to me, the same thing that you would say to the shopkeeper downstairs?
Everything that you do every moment, is the way. The way means, the right action.
L: The personality and brain functions are different between man and woman.
AP: Yes, brain functions are very different between man and woman, and even in a man, are the brain functions not varying greatly within a span of just twenty-four hours? If you are recorded for an entire day, would you believe that it is the same person who is doing all these things that you did in those twenty-four hours? We are talking of the differences between the physical man and the physical woman. Yes, there indeed are difference, no doubt. But please see that within the so called person, there are great difference within twenty-four hours, within five hours.
Are you the same in front of your boss, as you are in front of your wife? The person changes completely. Are you the same when you are watching a football match, compared to when you are sitting in a spiritual session? So there are these great differences. If according to differences there must be different methods, then there must be different methods for every moment. And that is the function of intelligence – To have a new method every second. This new method every second, is called right action. Are you getting it?
See, what is meditation? What is prayerfulness? It is a movement into peace. To move into peace, you would not be doing right now, what you need to do an hour later. This moment, peace might mean that you are sitting still, and just dedicating yourself totally to listening. Next moment peace might mean that you are wearing your sandals and walking away. So, the right action, which is the method, which is the way, will keep varying; so, what is the point in talking of five or ten fixed ways? We are talking of methods of praying, or methods of meditation, or spiritual ways, which is all just the same. Is it not obvious that the way must be a different way in every different situation, and in every different moment?
Understand it like this: You are standing in a vast green field, and there are some animals that are just grazing around on their own. Situation two: You are standing in front of a burning house. Is the right action same in both the cases? And we are saying that the right action is the right way, it is the method of meditation, and it is prayerfulness. Is the right action same in both the cases?
AP: Why would it not be the same? Because the world is not the same, and you are not the same. So if someone says, “Here are ten commandments” or “Here are hundred methods of meditation” Would that list be of any use? Would life operate according to those hundred situation? Would life operate according to those Ten Commandments? Life is so dynamic. Situations are changing, and they are not predictable. They will not conform to any model or framework.
L: What about Sadhanas people do every day?
AP: People do so many things. Whatever one does has the same quality that his other actions have. If I have not been intelligent in choosing the right way all my life, then how will I choose even the right ‘Spiritual way’ rightly? “I come to spirituality, because I say that my life-choices have gone wrong. I come to spirituality because I find that life is not quite proper. I come to spirituality because I find that there is something missing, just a little.” And if you are the one who could not be proper otherwise, how could then you be the one who would be proper in your so called spiritual choices? How is it possible? Carrying the same mind, the same center, how is it possible? You are the one who could not choose a T-shirt rightly, how would you choose a Guru rightly?
L: So, the center changes before spirituality?
AP: Of course. It is not before, it is the same, because the change of the center is spirituality itself. “One affair after another affair, one boyfriend after another boyfriend, one wife after the next, and I did not know how to take the right decision. But here I know very well, which text to read, which master to go to. And how do I know? I know just as I knew whom to marry. And how did I know whom to marry? Oh, she was hot.” So, what will you get from the master? Only that which you got from your affair- frustration, burning, restlessness, despise, and finally, bad memories. But in between, periods of orgasmic pleasure. “Ah! Come give me a hug.” You get that even in your failed relationships, don’t you?
Do you want a repeat of the same story even now? Most of us do not really belong to this place; we have come from different cities of India, or from different countries of the world. Have you come to this place just to play that same, old, stale, record again? Or do you want something fresh?
-Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity
Watch the session video: Acharya Prashant on Yoga Vasishta Sara: Does Spirituality advice men to renounce women?
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