Acharya Prashant, with students: The need to impress

Acharya Prashant: How many of you see, this, a very important factor in your life? Actually, we have been able to look at the issue right in the eye then we say that we need English to impress others.

Someone talked of communication. ‘Communication’ is an expression, right? And that’s a pure thing. Uncorrupted, unadulterated. But when ‘expression’ becomes a desire for ‘impression’, then are we really aware of what is happening?

You have the photographs and words of this man (Sh. APJ Abdul Kalaam), all over this place. Have you heard him speak? If not, look at some of his videos on youtube, expression is happening, communication is purely happening. But is there also a desire to ‘impress’ anybody? Did he proceed with a particular kind of accent? Does he proceed with great fluency?

Listeners: No.

AP: Is ‘communication’ happening or not?

L: Yes.

AP: And is communication happening with great felicity or not? ‘Felicity’ means, ease, smoothness. Is communication happening in a very smooth and spontaneous way or not?

L: Yes.

AP: But is he also inflicted by a desire to impress somebody?

L: No.

AP: And what would have happened, had there been a desire to impress the audience? What would have happened? Let’s try to understand, what might have happened, had there been a desire to impress the audience?

L: The pitch goes high and higher.

AP: What have you printed here? His accent or his words, his content?

L: Words, content.

AP: Content, right? The moment your attention shifts to impression side; whom do you want to impress, the other? Right? Your attention has shifted to the ‘other’. Now, you are no more aware of yourself. Your content is suddenly and surely going to deteriorate. The quality of what you are saying is surely going to suffer.

Whenever someone speaks with a desire to impress, rest assured, that whatever he would be speaking, will be of inferior quality.

The content will not come from the depth of awareness.

It will be superficial.

This desire to impress is an extremely strong factor in our Life, extremely strong factor in our life. I dealt with the same topic with other third-year batches, and it took me a while to first bring them to realize that one of the primary reasons, why they are drawn to this language(English), is that desire, to create an influence on others. They started off by talking a lot of things, it’s good that your batch is not even talking of those things. You have come point blank to the real thing. Good. That saves us of a lot of hypocrisy.

Whenever there is a desire to impress somebody, actually it is a desire to be big. Actually, it is a desire to be big. How many of you are connected to Advait on Facebook?

Quite a few!

Often I look at the way you represent yourself on Facebook. Just as you represent yourself in front of somebody through language; when you are communicating. You represent yourself, right? Similarly, you represent yourself on the internet as well. Because in the virtual world, there are so many opportunities for representation. Representation is common, whether you are speaking, or whether you are showing yourself up on Facebook!

Now a few observations from what I have seen there. Many of us, do not put up our actual photographs, and would have been wonderful, had we rather put up a piece of Art or something! It is understandable when someone says, that what is the point in displaying my face, I would rather display a beautiful scene from nature. To that extent, it is admissible. But so many of us, have put up faces of film-actors, or other famous personalities over there. Now, do we see what is happening?

Remember, this is related to the representation aspect of Language as well, the English Language. So many of us, do not even write the name of our College, instead, they prefer to write the name of the School, if their School happens to be a more renowned one. If the School happens to be a more renowned one, we would stick to the name of the School. Because that probably is a bigger brand than your current institution!

Now, what will you say about such a person who does not put up his real photograph, instead he puts up a photograph of some film-actor, sitting on a throne, in a stylish way! And does not dare, to even display the name of his current institution.

Not only this much, but many of us also would not even display our real names! The fellow’s name would be Ram Narayan Pandey, and his Facebook name would be Brad Pitt.

(Students giggle)

Now, can we understand what is happening? Can we look at it sharply, as to what is happening? Because I know, many such Brad Pitts are already standing here. A substantial number of MIT students are connected to us, close to a 300. So, I am talking about ‘us’, I am not talking about some imaginary character.

Now, what is happening? What do you say about the psychological health of a person, who is obsessed with representation, with an impression. He cannot put his real photograph, he takes up a fake name, all kinds of fake identities, does not put the name of his current institution. And not only that, being in the third year now, he might have gone for Summer training. So he says, I work at such and such place, he does not even want to reveal that I am yet a student! So, he says, I work at, NTPC. Not only this much, some of us write, Entrepreneur. All kinds of fake representations are there.

One way of looking at it is to just say, that the fellow is very smart. Well, I do not look at it that way, and I invite you to look at it more sharply, more clearly.

If I am not able to portray my real ‘self’ if I am always obsessed with what others would be thinking about me, what does it tell about my psychology? What does it tell about my mind? Yes, what kind of mind do I have?

L: Conservative?

AP: Conservative? Really? Let’s find a better word.

What kind of mind do I have?

Alright, I will drop you another hint. You have been to HIDP for three or four semesters and now you are doing this Language program, you would have, all of you, surely seen that many students when they come here to make their presentations, or speak in a group discussion, or perform in a role play, they start shivering, they choke. Even if they have content to speak, they choke — Observation One.

Observation Two —  Many students, come over here and they start speaking so damn fluently that they just collapse after 30 seconds. Like an Ambassador car that has been made to run at 170 Kms per Hour. For 30 seconds it runs and then it just disintegrates. Have you noticed all this? So, the fellow comes over here, and then he starts off as if he is in a race to complete his sentence. And then he just disintegrates.

Have you seen, so many of us, when we are here, are absolutely afraid. The same fellow would be sitting at the back and gossiping. But when, it is his turn to come over here and speak, and speaking in HIDP is usually in English, right? Whenever there is his turn to speak, he just chokes.

Observation Three — Nobody is afraid of speaking in front of a mirror. Nobody ever is afraid of speaking, when he is alone, in front of a mirror.

What do these three observations, coupled with the Facebook observation, tell you? Do we firstly share these observations? Have we seen this happen?

L: Yes Acharya Ji.

AP: And then the facilitator goes over there, and consoles the student, no issues, just speak, go on. But because each group has not more than ten minutes on the podium, after two-three minutes if he still doesn’t speak up, their time is over.

You have seen this happening? It’s a familiar story, across institutions. There is always such a cross-section of students!

Now, can you tell me, what is common between this student (up on stage) and that Facebook guy? This fellow who chokes here (on stage), and that Facebook guy! And remember Observation number three. No one is ever hesitant to speak in front of a mirror. No one has ever started shivering when speaking in a room of solitude. Yes, what does this tell you?

L: Fear of others?

AP: Fear of others. Right? There is always a fear of others, right?

AP: What is your name?

L: Ankur.

AP: Ankur, Can we also say, that the Facebook person in trying to impress others, is actually afraid of others?

Whenever there is a desire to impress somebody, that desire is actually a ‘fear of others.’

It appears like a desire, but deep within, it is a fear of the crowd. Remember, just as the Facebook fellow wants to impress, even this fellow is quite eager to impress. Don’t you think he wants to impress? Don’t you think that from that desire to impress, comes all his nervousness? What will they think of me?

If this same hall is empty, no fear would be there. As I said, no one is ever afraid of speaking in front of a mirror. Is there really a big problem in communication skills? Is it an issue regarding communication skills? You ask him, he will say “Yes, it is a problem with my communication skills.”

But, I am asking you, to look at it more clearly. It is really about communication skills? Or is it something about the quality of the mind? Yes? Does it have to do with the ‘richness of your vocabulary,’ or ‘the poverty of your mind?’ Is it about the richness of our vocabulary, or is it about the poverty of our mind?

L: Poverty of our mind.

AP: What is a poor mind? When we say poverty of the mind, what is a poor mind?

A ‘poor mind’ is one that has not contended, complete in itself.

A ‘poor mind’ is one which, like a beggar, is always looking at others for sanction, for verification.

Hence, it is always, in a race to impress somebody. If I impress them, they will give me something.

Whenever you are trying to impress somebody, you are acting as a beggar. What does a beggar do? Don’t you see all beggars try to impress us? Have you seen that? And the best beggar is the one, who impresses us the most. And they use all kinds of tools tactics and acting, to impress us. Don’t they? What is to ‘impress’? To create an impression. To create and influence. Would you ever give even a 50 paisa coin, if he fails to impress you?

But, we think that creating an impression is such a wonderful thing. We do not see that this desire to create an impression, is the reason why we suffer so much! Is the reason why we have these attacks of choking, and nervousness, and sweating and shivering.

Are we together till this point?

L: Yes, Acharya Ji.

AP: There are two ways of looking at the English Language. One, purely as a Language.  And that’s a beautiful way of looking at it. It’s the Language of Shakespeare, Milton, and Keats. Beautiful.

But, we do not look at it that way.

How many of you, want to be proficient in English, because you are fond of English Literature? Because you’d Love to read Sherry’s poetry? Yes, anybody? Anybody here, who wants to go into the Language, because of what the Language really has to offer? Have you heard of the novel called ‘Chandrakanta Santati’? When I was a kid, it used to come on Doordarshan on Sundays. Firstly ‘Chandrakanta’, and then ‘Chandrakanta Santati’. This was originally published in Bengali if my memory is not failing me. Thousands of people, learned Bengali, just to read this text in original. That is one way of approaching a Language. I want to learn this Language, as a Language.

But none of us, approach English that way! Why do we want to learn this Language?

L: For our use?

AP: No, not really for ‘your’ use. For others’ use. To impress others. You do not want to learn this Language for yourself. You have no intention of appreciating the beauty of this Language. All you want is to be able to cast a ‘good impression.’ And the fellow who seeks his self-worth from others, the fellow whose self-esteem comes from the approval of others, is a very unfortunate fellow. Very very unfortunate fellow. He is surely living a life of suffering. In which Language, did you write the entrance exam to the UPTU?

L: English.

AP: In which Language are all your textbooks?

L: English.

AP: In which Language, do you write your Answer papers?

L: English.

AP: Assignments?

L: English.

AP: Google, gives us the option to search in many Indian Languages as well. How many of us, Google in Hindi? Anybody here, who Googles in Hindi?

Most mobile phones today, give the option of choosing Hindi as the display Language. How many of us have put Hindi as a display Language?

Many mobile phones, also give the option of texting in Hindi. How many of us text in Hindi?

Does not all of this show, that as far as a basic proficiency in Language goes, we are already proficient. I asked, Why do you need English? And someone said, ‘for our use.’ If you need it only for your use, you already have that level of proficiency. And let me give you an undeniable proof of that. Last year, when Infosys came to our campus, it comes from there! There were two sections to the paper. Broadly, let us call them, English and Maths, or English and Logic. Your Seniors were able to clear the English paper. Many more of your Seniors, actually flunk the Maths paper. So, is English really a problem with you?

I am talking facts and figures now, numbers, pure numbers. English is not at all a problem. You read English, you eat English, daily! That’s what you do. In which Language am I communicating to you right now?

L: English.

AP: How many of you, cannot make any sense of what am I saying? How many of you, cannot comprehend, what I am saying? Then why are we saying, that we are learning this Language for our use? As far as regular practical usage goes, you are already proficient in it.

In fact, Indians have a pretty good command over English, when seen in the context of the non-English speaking world. That is one of the reasons, why, so many call-centers gravitate to India.

So, first of all, let us stay clear of the illusion that we want to learn English because we want to use it, or because it is the global Language, or because it is the Language of Technology, and all that stuff. No, none of that! Even if those reasons are valid, they are very secondary reasons for you. For you, the primary reason is that, when you speak, like a dude, and you stand like a stud, others are impressed.

Last week, when I came here, and I met the other batches, on this road, ‘civil lines,’ there is this fellow, who is selling goggles. Obviously, very cheap goggles, by the roadside. And he has written, “Real Class Googlas”. Something like that. That is the spelling of goggles he is using. I wondered, for a second, why couldn’t he have just written, “Yahaan chashmein milte hain” (Goggles here, in Hindi). Just a canopy, a small canopy. And I immediately realized, why he wouldn’t have written that sentence in Hindi! Because he is not selling goggles, he is selling dreams, he is selling impressions. He is selling the need to impress your girlfriend.

So, you wear it, and even if I speak incorrect, watched up English, let me speak English. If I speak pure Hindi, even if I speak pure Hindi, that will impress nobody, but even moth-eaten English is enough to impress everybody. Right?

I said, a fellow who is looking to impress others, is living a very impoverished life. Because he is not complete within himself. His sense of self-worth comes from others. In a sense, we can say, that he is so blind that he looks at himself, through the eyes of others.

Do you want to live a Life like that? Looking at yourself through the eyes of others, with a begging bowl in your hands? Please approve me! I am prepared to impress you, as much as you want, but please approve me! Kindly sanction the way I am. Please sanction me! Do not reject me, please!

Is that the way you want to live your Life?


L: No.

Excerpts from a Shabda-Yoga Session. Edited for Clarity.

Watch Full Discourse: Acharya Prashant, with students: The need to impress

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