Mind and technology

21762214_1227353527370622_921021697824714700_nAcharya Prashant: Yes, what you want to say?

 Listener: What I want to ask?

AP: Yes.

Question: well, I want to ask something about the generation of Wi-Fi, What is doing that with people, with the earth, all those invisible things (Swirls hand in air). If you can say something, they (To the other listeners) all have their phones inside, I don’t have a phone.

Acharya Prashant: Do you mean the technical aspects of that, or, are you really bothered about what the continuous prevalence and availability of information, is doing to the human mind?

Listener 1: Yes (latter).

AP: So, it is not the particular technology that you are talking about, you are rather talking of the continuous bombardment of information on man’s mind.

You see, man has an urge to keep absorbing, to keep sucking in stuff from outside. Now, why does that happen? That happens because of a certain fear. A fear that if I do not know, then I will miss out, that if I do not know then there would be something reduced from my being. So, you want to know. Knowledge makes you feel happy, complete, confident.

The technology that you just named, and the technology will change, so it is not about one particular technology, it is about the basic urge of man for knowledge, for information, for security. One keeps on feeling that way. The question is, “What if no technology is made available?”

Unfortunately, that won’t help because the urge will still remain. You do not give anything to man from where he can channelize knowledge to himself, yet he would keep on providing himself with knowledge. If he has nothing, he at least has the eyes, if he has nothing, he at least has the ears. The ears will keep on sucking in knowledge. The eyes will keep on taking in views, pictures, and scenes. And the mind will keep on processing them. It doesn’t matter from where the news, events, information is coming to the mind, that channel is irrelevant, what is relevant is that we desperately WANT knowledge.

The technology that you talked of was most probably not there a few decades back. Equally probably, it won’t be there a few decades hence. But, the urge of man is ancient and is likely to continue. Hence, it is hardly any point naming a particular gadget or a particular technology, or even a particular situation. We, therefore, must look at something more general – the very structure of man’s mind.

See the man who looks at the internet comes to know the news from all over the world. The man, who, let’s say lives in a tribal society and doesn’t have the benefits of technology, comes to know of stuff only from his neighborhood. One man knows about the quarrels that going on in his neighborhood and takes a certain pleasure or certain interest in reading about those quarrels.

Another man knows of the inter-nation conflicts that are going on in another continent! And takes interest and pleasure in reading about those wars that are going in another continent. Is the first man really any better off than the second one?

The first man, mind you, has no availability of technology. But what does he have? He at least has his legs, he can go and snoop. And here what is going on is, he at least has his curiosity and his eyes. He will ask, he will hear, he will see. So I am asking you one man’s mind is full of his neighbors, another man’s mind is full of happenings in another continent, is the second man really more occupied than the first one? Is the first man any lighter than the second one? If that be so then spirituality would have been very easy. Just take away all the technological progress from man and you will find that all have realized God. That cannot happen that is not really the way.

What then is really the way? Is it possible to let in knowledge without being affected from knowledge? Secondly, is it possible to let in knowledge of a kind that would actually dissolve the patterns of your existing knowledge? So, that’s something quite interesting.

We have already talked of the first kind of knowledge. The kind of knowledge the need of which is provided to us by our existing knowledge. You see it like this, I take myself to be a Hindu, living in a certain locality, right? Now, this knowledge is deeply engraved in my mind. Given this knowledge, I want to know only about Hindu customs and rituals and, even amongst these, only those that are followed in my particular community and locality.

Now, this knowledge is obviously not going to help me broaden my horizons, this is, in fact, going to result in my walls remaining intact, more solidified.

I deeply believe I am a man. And, I also deeply believe in all the identity-based associations that go along with manhood – A man must be like this, a man must behave like this, a man must be responsible like this like this. Yes? You know of all those images, they vary with cultures but every culture does have some images of what it means to be a man or a woman.

So, let’s say I believe in those images. Now, given that I believe in those images, I will surf the internet as a man, and then what will I look for? You know what will I look for, I will look for stuff that reinforces my sense of manhood. And, that is the reason why you have sites that are ostensibly, exclusively devoted to women. They say, “We host stuff that women like.” And there are magazines that are directed especially at men. Boy’s magazines! “So, we publish stuff that men will like.” It is another matter that more women will end up buying them.

So, this is one kind of knowledge, where what you are trying to know further is determined by what you already know. So, I am trying to peep into the closet of women and I am trying to gain some knowledge of what lies there. Why? Because I am full, occupied, dominated by the knowledge that I am a man. This knowledge obviously not going to help. Wherever it comes from. It may come from a book, it may come from the internet or it may come from a discussion.

Then there could be knowledge, that is neutral, secular, the intellectual’s curiosity. He has made some kind of progress. Progress in the sense that he is willing to listen to even that which he does not necessarily agree with. He is willing to listen to opposing points of view. He is willing to even take them in and stay with them, not quickly discard them. This man is at least is not doing himself any active harm.

He is at least not actively, consciously seeking to strengthen the walls of his own prison. He is saying, “Let knowledge from all directions come to me.” And you have heard quotations like that, right? ” Let the knowledge come from all directions come to me. Let the windows of my house be open. Let the winds blow freely.” He is not doing any active harm to himself but at the same time, he’s not helping himself either because he is not yet free of opinions.

Even this is an opinion that knowledge must come to me from all directions and when knowledge indeed does come, it will leave its traces behind and what you will retain from the knowledge, that you absorb, will depend upon your inherent tendencies. So, it might be your intention that you will take in all kinds of knowledge but, with all your benign intentions you’ll still end up harming yourself. Because, whenever you have taken something it is bound to have a certain influence upon you.

You will turn that influence as retaining the best of all possible knowledge. You will say, “You know what, I looked at ten points of view, I heard ten different opinions, then from those ten different opinions, I retained only that one which was the best or, I retained with me the distilled essence of the ten.” What you don’t see is that whatever you retain with yourself is just adding to your burden and what you retain with yourself is determined by that which you already are. So, here you are not trying to actively harm yourself yet because there is something that you do not understand, in spite of your good intentions you are harming yourself. You see this?

In all of this, it doesn’t matter where that knowledge is coming from.it doesn’t matter whether it is coming from Wi-Fi or it is coming from neighborly gossip.

 L1: Or, television?

AP: Yes, television.

And then there is a third kind of knowledge. It’s a very special kind and it can come only from a very special quality of mind. It is that knowledge which helps you see the limitations of your existing knowledge. Now, knowledge does not usually do that, this kind of knowledge is outside the conventional definition of knowledge because knowledge by definition is mind stuff and we’re saying here we have a special type of mind stuff which will clear away mind stuff. That defies the very definition, that is   the reason why many realized ones will not call this third type, as knowledge, they will say, “No it is not knowledge, it is something else they will say it is meditative realization or, they may use some other phrase or word, whatever but let’s just call it a very special quality of knowledge.

Now, this knowledge comes to you, shows to you, the inadequacy, the limitation, the harm that is associated with knowledge itself. Not only does it show you how knowledge can harm you, it also does not harm you by itself sticking to you. So, it comes, it shows, it vanishes. It does not stick. it has to be indeed a very special type of knowledge because what it is doing is incredible.

How can it come, show and disappear? Does it have no self-interest? Is it not selfish? Does it not want something of its own? Now, think of this knowledge as an active agency – comes, helps, goes. This knowledge is the knowledge that you get from a real teacher – he comes, he helps, and he disappears.  He has nothing really to get from you. He wants nothing from you. He does not want to stay behind, he does not want to be a burden. He will come, he will help and he will go.

And, having gone he stays behind in a very lovely way. How? We said this kind of knowledge comes from a very special quality of mind, the knowledge will go away leaving your mind behind with that special quality. It’s from a very clean, very pure mind that such knowledge can arise from.

It arises from the mind, it reaches the listener, it cleans and purifies, it disappears and what has become of the mind this knowledge reached, it has attained to, it has rediscovered, it has returned to the same quality of mind that this knowledge firstly arose from. This is what is meant when it is said that the teacher helps you reach yourself and when you reach yourself, you find that you are so much like the teacher.

So, saying that the teacher helped you reach yourself is exactly the same as saying the teacher helps you reach the teacher – you could put it either way. Can we use any means of Technology to have the third kind of knowledge.

It is difficult. At the same time, if this knowledge requires a particular means then any means is most welcome. If the Upanishads can reach the world through internet, if the proliferation of Wi-Fi can help Ashtavakra to reach more people, then why not? Why not? just by reading Ashtavakra probably one would not attain Ashtavakra but still it is far better than letting the humbug affairs occupy your mind. Far better.

So, it is not about the type of technology, it is not about the channels that are being used to reach your mind. It is instead about what is the quality of your mind and what is the quality of mind from where this information is emanating. And then according to the position of time, according to the scene of this great drama being enacted, the relevant technology of the day will be used.

If you are living in the Middle Ages obviously it can’t be Wi-Fi. If you are living in the Stone Age, obviously it can’t even be the beating of the drum. The method, the channel, the technique that you will use to reach the other will depend on the day, will depend on the time. The technique, the channel does not matter. What matters is that there is a guru who is willing to go into the world you know and share this third quality of knowledge and there is a student who is willing and daring to let this dangerous knowledge penetrate him or her. That is what matters.

I just do not think that technological progress is a barrier to spiritual growth. I give no vintage to the allegations that science and technology and evils. Because science and technology simply do not lie outside of man’s mind. It is man’s mind that is primal. If the mind is at the proper place then whatever it does, this technology, that technology, any technology that may arise in the future would be auspicious. And, if the mind is not in the proper place then even if you take away all the technology, and turn man back into the forest dweller, still man would remain uneasy, restless, and harmful to himself and others.

So, if this technology is available today, in the right frame of mind, please see how it can be used to reach more people. This technology is there because it is necessitated by the state the world is in today. When there are eight billion people obviously you cannot use your tongue as the channel to reach them. Talking, speaking, discussing was alright when there were limited people and lots of qualified teachers, then small groups could have sufficed. Today, given the way we are and at the point at which we stand these technologies are necessary in fact these technologies correspond to the world we live in, you cannot deal with this world leaving out those technologies. Can you see this?

This world and those technologies go together. The state of the world is always parallel to the state of technological progress. They are together. So, you cannot cut one out of the other. Be bothered about the mind, that is far more important. 

And, how does one bother about the mind? How does one take care of the mind? The third quality of knowledge is always available and the third quality of knowledge is non- knowledge. It’s a deep meditative understanding that is available and one has to just ask for it, one gets it, use it. That is why in various cultures this third quality has even been called as God’s blessings. It has even been called as God’s direct word. Certain books have been said to be coming directly from God, not from man, for this reason.

L1: You don’t need protection for your health for the Wi-Fi radiation.

AP: you see, everything that man does, has to get done in a tempered way. And whatever you do every action is in some way a technology. Whatever you do, you have to take adequate care for your physical well-being as well. In fact, if we continue talking for too long it is too bad for our health. Is it not? Even this simple basic technology can do us physical harm. If we continue talking for six hours I would be dehydrated and you would have collapsed. Is that not so. So, it is not only Wi-Fi that harms the health, even the most basic thing like talking can harm the health. Yes?

L1: Yes, I understand.

AP: So, all of it comes with its own risks and disadvantages. They have to be duly factored in.

L1: you have to be away from such things?

AP: yes, one has to be conscious of their dangerous, one has to balance them. That’s what is meant by mortal living. Your body is such a fragile piece, such a vulnerable entity that everything harms it. Sunlight harms it. Even fresh air harms it. You go and stand out taking in the air, letting it blow past you a couple of hours, you will find that you are going dizzy.

Mind’s natural urge is to know, to reach there, and to attain perfection. You will not be able to stop that. There have been people who have campaigned against scientific progress. There have been people who have been saying that science must not look into this, science must not do that. Even today there are certain areas that are being sort to be prevented from the touch of scientific development.

Somebody says, “Cloning is so bad and you must stay away.” Somebody is saying there are other things that science must not try. You may ban the urge of the mind to know, to discover for a while, but you will not be able to banish it forever. One day those restrictions will be lifted, one day man’s mind will do whatever it can, so it is not so much about the action, it is rather about the actor – What is the quality of mind that is entering this technology? Depending upon the quality of the mind, the technology will be put to use.

You can have nuclear energy go to devastate a city and you can have nuclear energy to energize the city. Now, do you want to say that nuclear energy is evil or would you rather say that we need to take care of the mind that deals with nuclear technology? Take care of the mind, everything else will be taken care of and if the mind is not in the proper place, I assure you even the most harmless technology will be put to harmful usages. You will use solar energy the bomb your neighbor. In the case of Netherlands, you can have windmills to destroy your enemies.

That means that (the technology) was of little concern. In Indian mythology there are stories. You know the symbol of Shiva?

L1: Little bit.

AP: he is called Neelkanth. If you see his throat is depicted in blue. Because the story says that when the great ocean was being churned by the Devas and the Danavas, by the Gods and the devils, from it, first of all, emerged a large boiling pot of deadly poison and nobody knew what to do with it. So, it was brought to Shiva. He was the only one with the composure, the stillness, the coolness to take care of this boiling pot; a boiling pot of poison.

And Shiva just took it and drank all of it and he just let it be in his throat. He did not let it go into his system. So the poison is all there and his throat is blue. He helped everybody without letting any harm come to himself. He let even the most harmful thing happen to him without actually any harm happening. Everybody else was helped and Shiva was not harmed.

And, there are contrasting stories in which people have worshiped Shiva for centuries with devotion and when they have received the blessings, the most harmless blessings the most wonderful and auspicious blessings, they have used those blessings to bring down the world, to destroy the world. Somebody had said- “You know what, I love you so much Shiva that I want to be killed only by you. Having prayed to Shiva, having worship Shiva for very long, having been in love with Shiva, Shiva appears in front of this devotee and says “Yes son, what do you want?

He says that I love you so much that I want to be killed by you and only by you. Shiva says “As you wish.” And then this one uses this to create havoc in the world because Shiva had said that “You will be killed by me” which means that you cannot be killed by anyone else. Seeing this?

So, he can go and do anything. So, it is not a matter of the doing, even the most harmless doing can become the most harmful one. It all depends on who you are, if you are Shiva then even that which is harmful, will be turned into harmless by you, and if you are one of the Asuras, the devils, then even that which is apparently so harmless, not only harmless but actually useful, will be turned into the most harmful thing by you. Take care of your mind that is what is needed.

Watch the session: Acharya Prashant: Mind and technology The transcription has been edited for clarity.

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