Being Nobody, Going Nowhere


Spark 36

Friday, July 14, 2017


     The self-development workshops of this mad, mad world typically exhort us to become somebody, make money, get power and earn fame and name. The science of liberation – moksha-shāstra – asks us, in contrast, to know ourselves and ‘not bother’ about becoming anything. The world’s glamorous programmes urge us to have great dreams and realize them; the Upanishads inspire us to wake up from our sleep and realize how we are already happy. Motivational speakers of the ‘tinsel town’ advise us to go places, cross the 5 oceans and see the 7 continents. Saints and sages whisper in our ears, “The universe is within you, dear!” “Sitting here, he goes very far! Fast asleep, he reaches everywhere,” declares the Kathopanishad1 while singing the glory of the Self, and of Self-knowledge. “Know this great, all-pervasive Self and all grief will end for ever,” is the extraordinary assurance of the sacred text2. We know very well that all that glitters is not gold. This world of pleasure, power, positions and possessions is very attractive, no doubt, to our senses and mind. We at the same time know countless sorrowful tales of rich and famous people, of queens and kings, who – in spite of their possessions or positions – had sleepless nights and unenviable days. What we actually seek is ‘something that does not die’ but nothing in the world is permanent. When she was offered much wealth and large property, Maitreyee asks her husband Yājnavalkya, “Can I become immortal (amritā) upon getting this whole earth, filled with wealth?” [amritā here means lasting happiness.] Her husband, who had just announced his renunciation plans, says without mincing words3, “Wealth cannot simply give you lasting happiness!” Spiritual ignorance makes us feel insecure endlessly. That insecurity prompts us to go after wealth and fame, imagining that we will be at peace for ever after getting rich or famous. This illusion is universal. Ending of ignorance is the real need. A clarification however is in place. The whole advice implied in the slogan, “being nobody, going nowhere,” is not against occupying any position. Nor is it against travel. It is all about investing our emotional energy in the prospect of building a socially coveted image. We are warned against chasing a ‘self-image’ and we are lovingly told to seek the true Self. Incidentally the phrase, “Being nobody, Going nowhere,” happens to be the title of a popular book by a Buddhist nun Ayya Khema4. Swami Chidananda Notes: 1 āseeno dooram vrajati, shayāno yāti sarvatah – Kathopanishad 1.2.21 2 mahāntam vibhum-ātmānam matvā dheero na shochati. – Kathopanishad 1.2.22 3  amritatvasya na āshā asti vittena – Brihadāranyaka Upanishad 2.4.2 4 Ayya Khema, German by birth, lived between 1923 and 1997, and did extensive work for especially women who embraced Buddhist renunciation. ~