Acharya Prashant on Rumi: The three levels of giving


Before death takes away what you are given,

give away what there is to give.


Acharya Prashant: Here is something from Rumi: “Before death takes away what you are given, give away what there is to give.”

The question says, “Statements like these are interpreted as being pleasure aversive, and we already are pain aversive, so together it means being life aversive. Is Rumi really talking about being life aversive?”

I’ll repeat the quote, “Before death takes away what you are given, give away what there is to give.”

‘Giving’ is the keyword. Let’s go close to it and understand it. ‘Giving’ happens at three different levels. All three are connected to each other, yet there is a dimensional difference between the three. The three appear to be progressively leading to each other, yet there is also a quantum jump from the first to the second and from the second to the third. The first kind of giving is the giving that we are all very familiar with.

You give somebody a hundred rupee note and then you expect in return a value of at least hundred rupees, right? And it is great if you give hundred rupees and are in return given a value of two hundred rupees. If you just look at the event partially, then giving is happening. Is it not? You are giving something, right?

Similarly, we give gifts to each other. We give compliments to each other. We give advices to each other. We even give help to each other. We see that happening all around us. What is common between all these types of givings? We are talking about the first level of giving. What is common between all these types of giving?

Listener: It’s given to someone else.

AP: Yes, and?

L: Expectation of a return.

AP: Expectation of a return. Now what kind of return do you expect? When you give something to somebody, what do you expect in return?

L: Something of same value.

AP: Something of value at least, or do you expect something valueless? Be with me, do you expect something valueless or something you deem as worthy?

L: Something we deem as worthy.

AP: Who decides whether what you are getting in return is indeed valuable?

L: Me.

AP: You decide. So you are the one who decides that you are giving away something that has value, let’s say a note or a compliment. And you are also the one who decides that what you are getting in return too is valuable, correct? Who is this ‘you’, who is this ‘me’ who decides what to give and what to get? And whether to give and whether to get? And whether the given and taken has value? Who is this entity that decides all this? That entity is called the ‘ego.’

The ego is interested in its own nourishment.

So, whenever it enters into a transaction with the world, whenever it enters into a transaction in a relationship, its objective is always to enhance itself. Which means that if it is giving hundred, it wants hundred and fifty in return. This is our normal day-to-day giving, which appears like giving but is actually a business transaction in which the ego wants to benefit and hence enhance itself. Are you getting it?

If you give something but get something in return which the ego does not like, then you will say that this is not a fair transaction. Take an extreme example. Let’s say you have become habituated to substance abuse, drugs. You take one thousand rupees and you give it to a drug peddler. And what you get from him instead is some sane advice and a copy of the Upanishads. An entire set of the principal Upanishads, that’s what he gives you the moment you hand over your thousand bucks to him. Will you say that you have been given a fair deal? Would you?

L: No.

AP: No,

because the ego wants only that what the ego values, not which is absolutely valuable.

It has to be valuable in relation to the ego’s configuration. I want that which I think is good for me. Now even if what you are giving me is beautiful advice and a copy of the scriptures, yet I reject it because I do not value it because this is not what I expected. Give me that which I want.

As must be evident, this kind of giving is extremely harmful for the giver himself because it is not giving at all. The giver says “I will decide what I want in return and that is a part of my freedom. Who are you to advise the Upanishads to me? I put the note on the table and I said that against this note I want my share of drugs. And it’s my freedom to want and get what I want to get,” right? That’s what the ego calls its conditioning as. What does the ego call its conditioning as? Freedom.

“Don’t you see that it is my individual free will to decide what I want to get, and if you do not give me what I have decided I must have, then I will say that I am being oppressed. Then I will say that I am being exploited, that my wish is not being honored”. Have you not heard that often? Yes? “Why are you not honoring my wish?”. The ego will not look back at itself and ask, “Is your wish worthy of being honored?” That will not say, because if it says that, then it gets weakened.

The power of ego lies in its ‘self-ignorance.’ The more the ego is ignorant about itself, the more power it has. The more it comes to know of itself the weaker it becomes. So it won’t look at itself. This is the first level of giving.
The second level of giving is when the ego gets tired of its own stupidity and says, “there must be something missing in the way I consider the world. There has to be something foolish about my own ways. I am tired of getting hurt again and again.”

Getting tired of getting hurt is a rare happening. Man is extremely resilient. We keep on getting hurt again and again, at the same place and yet we are hardly ever tired of repeating the same processes, the same actions that bring us to hurt.

So it is only by grace, only by some miraculous interference of the beyond that the ego sees that its ways are inimical to its own good. And when the ego sees that it is acting as its own enemy, then it gives up something. This is the second level of giving. What does it give up? It gives up its confidence in itself. In other words, you can say, it gives up itself.

I no longer trust myself as the authority. I no longer place my faith in myself. I do not know what is beyond me. But what is certain is that if I act as per myself, then I will get only that which I have been getting so far. And what I have been getting so far hurts so badly. I do not want to continue anymore on this road. I have been through it so many times with the same result. I do not want that result any further. I give up my ways. I give up the energy that I invest into being myself. I will no longer proudly declare I am what I am. I will no longer proudly brandish a slogan that reads – ‘Be yourself.’ I don’t want to be myself.

The fellow at stage 1 not only wants to be himself but is actually greatly proud of being himself. The fellow at stage 2 says, “What’s so great about being myself?” Now, this is quite interesting because the one who didn’t know what was happening, the one who was his own enemy, was happy with being his own enemy. He would say, “I’m alright as I am”. And the one who is now turning into his friend, into his well-wisher, the one who is saying, “No more suffering no more hurt please, he is now no more so proud of being himself.” Are you seeing this?

So at this level, there is the ‘negation.’ At the 2nd level there is the ‘negation.’ ‘Negation’ of what one has conventionally stood for. ‘Negation’ of what one has thought the world to be.

You can call it a stage of demolition. The old patterns are seen as worthless and hence given up.

The old ways of relating with the world, with institutions, with society, with people, are seen as unwise and hence given up. Yes, Rumi says “Give away what there is to give”, and we are going into the thing about giving. Yes? So,

In the first level, the ego gives, and this giving is of a nature that strengthens the ego.

In the second level, the ego gives up its trust in itself and hence gets diminished.

Their ego itself gets diminished. In the first level it was getting enhanced, now it is getting diminished. But still, the ego remains. Not only does the ego remain, but all that the ego can still know is that which is not good for itself. It knows that the ego itself is not good, so the process is of dropping, giving up. Then there comes a third stage.

In the third stage giving up does not happen. The third stage is of pure giving.

This giving is of the nature of radiation. Just like the Sun gives light, the Sun does not give up light. Once you have let go of that which you have been unnecessarily holding, then something else flows through you. Then you become a center that gives a lot, gives a lot, and yet is never tired of giving. You become a well that is replenished by an infinite ocean. So, you can let the whole world draw from you and yet you do not reduce.

Rumi says, “Before death takes away what you are given, give away what there is to give.” Before this body is no more, come to that point which gives meaning to life. And the ultimate meaning, the ultimate purpose of life, is to be able to express your essence, your Heart, that is what we indicated by the Sun. Life is not about struggling to gain as happens in the first stage, put in effort and demand returns, that’s not what life is about. Life is about coming to the point where you do not need much and hence are in a position to express that which you already have.

‘Self-expression’ is the highest kind of giving. When you really express that which you are, not which you have been told to believe in. When you really express that which you are, then you are of benefit to the entire world. Then you are at that point where the Upanishads say that even when the whole manifest the whole, yet the whole remains the whole.

Anybody here who remember it in Sanskrit? Just the second line, not the first one.

Listener:  ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पुर्णमुदच्यते

AP: पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥

पूर्णस्य – From the Total

पूर्णमादाय – When the Total is expressed

पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते – The Total still remains as the residue

This is the giving that Rumi is really referring to. Express yourself Totally. And only the Total in you can express itself totally. Your conditioned parts will remain what they are. Parts. They will never be able to capture the totality that you are. And those who have known have kept on telling us, unless you fully express yourself you will not come to peace. Till the point you keep on playing safe and suppressing yourself, you will not come to peace. Rumi is imploring, “Before death comes to you, conquer the fear of death. Before death comes to you, come to know of immortality. Before you die, live into immortality. Before you die, come to the third level of giving.”

The first level is – ‘Giving to gain.’ The second level is – ‘Giving up.’ And the third level is – ‘Giving as bliss,’ pure giving. And it cannot be called giving because giving as we know always follows a certain arithmetic. And that arithmetic is that when you give away two units you are left deficient by two units. In the third level you give away two units yet you remain what you are. You give away everything yet you have what you are.

In fact, it is possible that giving helps you know that you have more than what you could have ever thought. Giving in that sense does not reduce what you have, instead reveals what you have. The arithmetic of our words says – you give and you reduce. The arithmetic of Truth says – you give and the Truth is revealed. But remember this kind of giving cannot be a motivated giving. You cannot say, “I am giving in order to prove that I have a lot, or in order to prove that I am already at level three because if you are trying to prove that then you are just at level one. You are trying still to swell up in pride. You want to claim that I am spiritually accomplished.”

Giving at level three is like the song of the little wild bird. Everyone who comes to hear of that song feels fresh, feels great, comes to connect with a certain mystical beauty. But the bird is not deliberately trying to please anybody. The bird is singing its own song for its own reasons. The reasons are existential, not personal. The song of the bird is related to the Sun. The song of the bird is related to the winds. The song of the bird is not really related to the person of the bird. Such is the giving at the highest level. You sing, and your singing is not something particular. Your breath is a song. Your word is a song. Your actions are your songs.

In whatever you do, you are radiating your song. And your song is filling up the universe, illuminating it in a thousand unplanned ways. You don’t even come to know how your giving is helping the universe. But it indeed is. If somebody asks the bird, how many people were benefited by your morning song, would the bird be able to tell? If somebody asks the cloud, so how many leaves were washed by your drops today, would the clouds be able to tell? Such is the giving at the highest level. You give and you do not even bother to know who is benefiting and whether somebody is benefiting. All you know is that giving is your nature and is hence inevitable.

Strictly speaking, your giving is not for others. It is not for others because you have lost trust in otherness. What do you mean by others? The cloud sees itself and the soil as one. So when the cloud rains upon the soil it is only giving something to itself, not to others. It is from the soil that the cloud rises. So when the cloud rains on the soil, how can the cloud claim that it is raining on the other or giving to the other? It is not even for yourself, because had it been for yourself it would have been for your own small personal petty reasons. And the ‘yourself’ is always aligned against the world. The relationship is always of conflict. It is neither for others nor for yourself that you give.

You just give.

Meaninglessly, purposelessly, reasonlessly.

You don’t even give, you are just being what you really are.

And that which you are is the light of the universe. In the first stage, the light does not know itself and hence becomes an advocate of darkness. In the second stage, the light gradually begins to dust off all the rubbish that has accumulated over it. In the third stage, there is just light. The word gives starts becoming redundant. Who is giving and whom to give? Even to be a giver I have to be somebody. I have no interest in being somebody anymore. To give to somebody else, I have to believe that somebody else is different from me.

I do not know who I am, how do I come to see the other as separate from the one that I am. No interest is left in defining myself. No interest is left in creating boundaries between me and the other. I just give.

And when you just start giving, since you are giving to yourself, you start receiving a lot.

But let not the greed of receiving become the motive of giving. Which happens with the businessman and it also happens with the religious man. The businessman says “Put in hundred rupees as an investment and you will receive two hundred”. And the religious man says, “Donate hundred rupees and you will receive two hundred rupees worth of credit of virtues.” Abstract it might be but still, I get it. My account of moral virtues has been credited by 200 rupees. There is no difference between these two. None of them are really a giver in the real sense.
Alluring is the tale of the highest levels of giving. It has a great unknowable mystic beauty about it. But more useful to most of us is the second stage of giving, not the third one. Simply because most of us live at the first stage. Give that up which is really not needed. Give that up which is not useful to you.

When you find the mind carrying stuff, people, images, memories, thoughts, worries, plans, ask yourself, “Are they really indispensable, can’t I live without the mind stuff?”. And if there is something which you can live without, then surely you must live without it. If there is something that you can do without, then carrying that thing is just a burden. And who likes to carry burdens, do you? I don’t.

What you call as spiritual growth is nothing but a giving up of the unnecessary. And whatever is unnecessary will always lead to suffering. Nothing else is suffering. Giving weightage, value, currency to that which is not needed, which is peripheral, incidental, that is suffering, that is stage 2. I welcome you, rather I accompany you to stage 2. Willing to walk with me?

The gates are always open. Would help a lot of us drop some weight. It’s quite unnecessary. And I’m with you. The question had said, “Is Rumi being life averse?” I hope that has been answered. Rumi is talking really neither about pleasure nor about pain. He is talking about that which we think ourselves to be, and that which we really are. He is talking about the climax of life. He is talking about that which brings liveliness to living. What is the point in living like the dead?


Won’t you want to come alive before this body dies?

Yes? Or is even that boring.


Tremendously bored we are with everything, that even an invitation to get rid of boredom sounds boring.

Thank you for asking this. There is a very welcome and auspicious beginning of the session. Thank you. Anything on this?

Yes, please.

L: Rumi said, “Before you die. . . “. Now would I not be persuaded to think that before I die I should do this? So it’s again the fear that’s being generated. My confusion is on that. Why did Rumi say that even when it’ll generate fear?

AP: The question is Why is Rumi talking this language? The question is, by saying before you die, is Rumi not instilling the fear of death in our minds? No, he’s not putting the fear of death in your mind.

Your mind is already afraid of death, and Rumi is just exposing, or at worst exploiting that fear.

To whom are these words said? When Rumi is saying this, to whom is he talking?

L: The one who is fearful of death.

AP: He’s talking to people who are level 1, level 2. These are the levels of the ego. At these levels there obviously is fear. We say that at level 1 the ego wants to accumulate and enhance itself. Now, why does the ego want this security?


Because it is always afraid. Even at level two, the ego is giving something up, why? Because it is seen that life is being wasted, and it does not like that. So fear is any way there in our minds.

Given the way we are, fear is our reality.

Wherever there is body identification, there would also parallely be the fear of the loss of the body.

And we all are beings that are body identified, that is simple, and Rumi is talking to us. So, he is saying before this body is lost, come to see that which this body is for.

We anyway deal in fears, right? Where we stand we need motives. We say, “We will do something if it is beneficial for me.” So benefit and loss, that is the language that we deal in. You look at your daily activities. You look at what you have done over the last one month or one year, and do you find anything that has been done purposelessly?

Everything is done for a purpose, for a reason, with the expectation of gain.

And where there is the expectation of gain, there is also the parallel fear of loss.

Because Rumi is talking to us, hence he must remind us that if you are so afraid of death, then why don’t you first taste immortality before you indulge in other actions arising out of fear of death.

Because an action that arises from fear can never eliminate fear.

It is quite strange. Our actions arise from fear. And all actions are done to reduce the fear. But whatever arises from fear can never reduce fear. So, Rumi is saying that before you do anything else why don’t you take care of that which you are anyway desperate for.

Before you indulge in driving your car through the valleys, why don’t you first take care of the flat tyre? Because with the flat tyre you will anyway not be able to enjoy the valleys.

Take care of the ‘first’ in the ‘first place.’

Do not let the disease guide your actions. Rather, the first action should be to eliminate the disease.

And these are the only two ways of living.

Some people maintain the disease and let the disease guide their actions. The other says that only one action is needed. And that action is to get rid of the disease. The disease here is fear, the fear of death or otherwise.
Is that alright?

-Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity

Watch the session: The three levels of giving || Acharya Prashant on Rumi (2016)


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