Category: Understanding God – The UP Podcast Episodes
Episode 32 – God, truth, understanding & utility – In collab with The Most Serious Podcast (1h 5min)
Ripudaman Bhardwaj from The Most Serious Podcast is one guy who knows how to hold an honest and engaging conversation. I was recently a guest on his show, and the conversation was so deep and stimulating that I asked him to share it on my network too.
We talked about the truth about God, different perspectives of looking at Life, what it means to differentiate between utility & truth, and so much more.
I genuinely feel this is one of the best online conversations I have been a part of so far.
Do check it out and let me know your honest feedback as always. Until next time. Peace out.
Episode 30 – Self awareness & spirituality, and their relationship to self improvement in the modern world (17 min)
In this episode of The Unlearning Playground podcast, we sit together for a good & powerful meditation on the topic of spirituality.
I talk about what I find to be the heart of spirituality, what a modern human must unlearn about it, how it actually enhances a person’s self awareness & what is the relation all of this holds to that topic which attracts almost of us (at least the sane ones) – self improvement.
This is a slightly more poetic episode than the usual episodes I have been recording and sharing lately, and as we find out in the video – that has got more to do with the colour of the t-shirt I’m wearing in it!
Let’s dig right in.
I’ll see you in the playground.
Until next time.
My t-shirt, the wife & the topic for today’s episode
Spirituality & voodoo rituals
What really is spirituality?
Spirituality & self improvement in the modern world
For a lot of us modern humans, the topic of spirituality is introduced to us from the point of view of rituals, and most of them being voodoo ones to be honest.
And what that does is place us somewhere along this spectrum:
On one side, some tend to become so overwhelmed and attached to these rituals that they start to define almost all of their identity, and especially what it means to be truly spiritual.
On the other side, some tend to become so repelled by all the “voodoo” stuff that they start to reject all of spirituality as being just that – the voodoo.
Both of them have a story in their minds. And both are incomplete. And both should check out this episode to get a clearer idea of what spirituality is all about.
As usual, in this episode, I do not provide an argument from authority. I merely try to point my listeners towards the limitations of the usual biased narratives they might be holding, and in doing so, direct them towards what’s objectively true – not true for me or true for someone else – but true objectively.
That, for me, is one of the cornerstones of my work here.
That said, I also did something different in this episode. Like I mentioned before, this ended being a slightly more poetic episode than my usual ones, and I ended it with a poem titled ‘To be spiritual …’
Allow me the pleasure of sharing it here with you.
To be spiritual means to be exploring oneself.
To be spiritual means to unlearn all those aspects of Life that you thought to be true, but realised later that aren't true really, even if your whole identity depends on them.
To be spiritual means to understand that all of Life occurs in the present moment - the past & the future are also arising now.
To be spiritual means to go beyond the realm of thoughts - detach from the whirlwind of thoughts that occupy all of our waking lives almost normally.
To be spiritual means to see beyond your own biases, opinions and delusions.
To be spiritual means to see that a life led only for self-centred pursuits is a limited one.
To be spiritual means to love - to love life and to love Life.
Episode 26 – 2 types of prayers | What should you pray for? (7 min)
In some way, shape or form, we are surrounded by prayers.
Join me in this episode as I talk about the two primary types of prayers that we humans perform in our everyday lives, and let’s discuss whether there is enough motivation for switching from one kind to the other.
This can be a touchy subject for some people, so please take it with a pinch of salt.
And like I always say, if something doesn’t resonate with you, that’s when you need honesty the most.
Most opinions we form in our lives have at least some connection (in some cases a lot of connection) to what we saw in our formative years.
The way you see your parents treat others lingers on in your subconscious when it’s your chance to act out.
The way you see your neighbours talk to each other influences what you consider to be right or wrong.
And so on…
Quite similarly, how you see religion, God, spirituality, etc depends to a great degree on what you learnt from your close ones in all the years they had a real chance to actually teach you.
And that impacts how you view prayers as well.
Now even though our individual, subjective experiences must have been quite different growing up, there are various common threads that can be weaved across them. That is exactly what I try to do in this episode, focussing of course on the topic of prayers.
The obvious superficial similarities can be seen quite clearly by everyone. For eg – The words we use in our prayers, the tone in which we say them, the rituals we follow while saying them, etc – all of these nuances are picked up in our formative years from the ones around us.
There are some deep seated similarities which, though extremely important, can easily missed out unless triggered externally. This episode aims to be one such trigger.
Let me offer a few examples:
The stance you take towards the idea of prayers itself – whether the entire idea is rubbish or whether it is the single most important thing one must do daily or somewhere in between.
What you pray to – a God, which one of the Gods, the universe, etc.
What you pray for.
What you expect from your prayers.
Where your prayers come from.
In this episode, I aim to tackle these questions from the point of view of two different kinds of prayers that may not look very different on the outside, but are very different from the point of view of the actor(s) involved.
As I said in the very beginning of this page, our perspective matters a lot. And it can be a subtle change of perspective that can make a prison out of something powerful, or something powerful out of an apparent prison. That is exactly the stance we are taking in this episode.
If the content you consumed here moved you, you might be interested in the section of my work that I dedicate to true spirituality and philosophy. The key narrative I build there is one of understanding, and not just believing. This is something I find particularly lacking in the religious community in the modern era.
If this resonates with you, check out my episode playlist dedicated to this topic here.
I aim to build more on this topic exclusively in the months and years to come.
As of the time of my writing this, Hindus all over the world have just finished celebrating the festival of Diwali. For millions of Hindu households across the globe, it is the pivotal festival in their calendar.
But every year around this time, especially since the last few years, there are quite a few questions that turn up and demand to be answered sincerely and convincingly.
What is the real significance and meaning of Diwali?
Should we, or should we not, burst crackers on this day?
What does the life of Shri Ram teach us?
In this episode of my podcast, I try to tackle these questions in the only way I know how to – as honestly as possible. And honesty in itself is a funny thing. Remember that beautiful quote by that beautiful poet David Whyte:
"Honesty is not found in merely revealing the truth, but rather in understanding how deeply afraid of it we are."
P.S. I build on this quote in a video on my YouTube channel here – do check it out.
So yes, back to the topic at hand. In this episode, I try to walk through these questions as honestly as possible. Of course, not stopping at what could be hard to talk about or listen, or in the modern lingo, not stopping at what could be triggering!
I think there are lessons in this episode that both followers and non-followers of religions and rituals can very easily pick up on and apply to their everyday lives outside of the domain of the discussion here.
If you’d have noticed, I used a quote from Acharya Prashant at the top of this webpage. Even in this episode, I do talk about the stance this man takes when it comes to the question of Diwali and Shri Ram. I think it is one of the most potent meditations I have heard in recent times. He is truly a gem of a teacher in all regards and must be appreciated. I hope it resonates with you too.
To time it in the episode, the section where I talk about this is close to the 17th minute.
Here is an outline of the episode for easier reference:
(00:00) – Intro (00:47) – Diwali & the backdrop (02:50) – The question of crackers (04:12) – My personal stance on crackers (07:40) – Some common(?) sense (08:16) – The faults in others (10:20) – It is all a ploy (12:12) – It is a ritual after all (13:20) – Should we do this on Shri Ram’s day? (16:10) – The real light & prosperity of Diwali (21:08) – Ending
Episode 18 – 3 things that are wrong with religions today, and how we can solve them (22 min)
In the modern world, there are three broad kinds of issues we face when it comes to perceiving and talking about religion, god and spirituality.
Join me as I walk you through these three problems and how we can go about solving them. After all, the greatest merit in pointing out problems lies in at least trying to put forward solutions too. That’s exactly what I’m doing in this episode.
The content here is not specific to any single religion, or even any specific train of thought. I claim that it is applicable to all the religions out there.
Is that too much to claim? Only one way to find out. Dig right in.
There is a very powerful quote that you’ll find at multiple pages on this website. Here it is again:
If we ever hope to glimpse the true nature of the divine, we must unlearn everything we have been taught about god.
THE 14TH CENTURY CHRISTIAN MYSTICAL TREATISE, ‘THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING’
A first look at this quote always leads to the interpretation that it is meant for people who are followers of one religion or the other. However, I would like to put forth the idea that this quote is not just true for theists, or believers. This quote is also equally true for the atheists, the agnostics and also for the ones who claim to say that they don’t know enough or even care enough to have a foot in the game.
All the above opinions about religions and God are incomplete.
And more than anything, that is the central theme of this episode of The Unlearning Playground Podcast.
As a follow up to this episode, I’m sure my playlist on understanding God, religion and spirituality would definitely appeal to the keen listener.
Episode 15 – 1 simple & powerful way to understand rebirth, karma & reincarnation – A nondual explanation (18 min)
For almost all of us, the way in which we perceive the idea of reincarnation, rebirth and karma – both believers as well as skeptics – is limited.
Join me, Chetan Narang, in this episode of The Unlearning Playground podcast to go into the depth of understanding these heavy terms. We unpack what these terms do not mean, what are the misconceptions surrounding them in our everyday interpretations of them, what we need to let go to actually digest the nectar of what they were always meant for.
I try to provide a nondual explanation of reincarnation, rebirth and karma that is in line with an understanding of Life that does not warrant any belief or faith or bias – all you need to do is to sit with these words in the most honest way possible, especially when they do not resonate with you. That is, after all, when we need honesty the most.
When it comes to reincarnation, like most spiritual matters, ideas on both sides of the coin – believers as well as skeptics – are limited, incomplete and based on misinterpretations.
Understanding these concepts is hard, not because they require us to learn a lot of new things. However, like most real wisdom, this understanding requires us to let go of our sticky ideas about them first. Or, speaking the language of this podcast, it requires us to unlearn our preconceived notions about them.
If what you hear in this episode is something you have never thought about before, make sure you listen to it multiple times, and makes sure you spend time to meditate on it. You know, just like someone who works out a whole lot but doesn’t get the maximum benefits from it because he does not rest/sleep enough, someone who reads or consumes a whole lot of philosophy but doesn’t find the time to meditate on it doesn’t really extract the juice out of it. I can’t stress it enough how important meditation is in really grasping matters such as these.
Life, at its very root, is a continuous process – a flux. It is more a verb than a noun. And this is true not just for Life in general. It it true for every one and every thing. In fact, that is the central message behind the quote I shared at the very start of this page. Allow me to repeat.
No man ever steps in the same river twice. For it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.
This quote is one of the most potent ones you should definitely cement in your mind. While it is just very useful everyday life advice too, I would especially emphasise on the importance of this quote with respect to the topic at hand here.
To really grasp the understanding of reincarnation, one has to unlearn a whole lot of preconceived ideas. One big one amongst them is the idea of identifying with a fixed, static image – both for oneself and also for others. While it is a very useful image to help us navigate the world, it has its limitations. These limitations, by their very definition, create blindspots that we simply cannot see, unless we are receptive, open and honest enough if and when triggered externally.
An episode dedicated to God – what the word actually means.
Absorbing the content here should give you a whole lot of clarity about these burning questions we all have about God:
Is there a creator? What are the atheists missing? What does the word God really mean? Where do most religions converge in their teachings? What is the real answer to that age-old question “Who am I”?
In the information age, it’s downright unfortunate that the majority of us still don’t even have a hint of this understanding. It will take time to grasp the profundity of the entire thing, but the first step to any of that would be to become aware that there IS something to grasp!
If you’re here, take this opportunity and dive right in. It’ll be worth your time. I promise.
I want to start this episode with a thought experiment. Consider that you have a pot of ink in your hands. Consider that there is an empty wall in front of you and you have been permitted by the owner of that wall to smear the ink all over it. Consider that you actually do it – you smash the inkpot on the wall and now, ignoring the bits of glass, there is ink all over the place.
Now, I want you to consider that drop of ink in that far off corner of the wall. Looked at in isolation, that drop is just a tiny drop of ink. And you’re right, it is one drop in a million-billion others. But what I want you to acknowledge is the fact that it is THE ink. It is as much THE ink as any other ink there is or ever was in that original inkpot. It is THE ink. Its real nature is that it is THE INK.
Now, if that drop of ink was to become conscious of its existence, to stretch the example a bit more, I’d say that the drop would not even realise that it is a drop of ink, a drop of THE ink. I say it would be consumed with the drama surrounding its limited field of view – the lizard and the ants coming over and stamping all over it, the drops next to it being hard to get along with, the fear of the darkness when the lights are turned off in the room, the beauty of the bright sunlight when the curtains are open, the shame of being a bad drop in its heart, the fear of being miserable in the future – all of this immediate drama would completely consume the everyday life of the conscious drop.
This is the human condition. Each and every one of us is just like that drop of ink – consumed by the drama of our everyday lives which shields our very true, very basic nature. We are THE ink that did all the dance on the wall and is continuing on with the dance as we speak. We are the ink, we are the dance. Each of us. I sincerely hope you are able to draw the parallels I’m trying to make here.
In the previous episode, we covered the idea of one’s ego, one’s sense of self, one’s sense of ‘I’. And we discovered that the real nature of the “I” gets lost in identification with the illusion produced by the myriad different thoughts, feelings, sensations and emotions going through our organism all the livelong day!
What is the real nature of this ‘I’? I just told you above. Do you remember the separation fallacy episode, which was the second episode of this show? If not, I would highly recommend you going through that. We covered in that episode how connected we are to the universe, to everything there is.
Let me build on this a bit more.
So let’s assume you’re a 24 year old girl named Ria working as a lawyer in some company in some city in India. Let’s ask Ria who she really is. She gives us the common answer – I’m Ria, I studied at so and so and now I work as a so and so… <you get the picture>. But ohh we’re smarter than that, so we ask her that that’s just a bunch of things she’s done in the past and plans on doing in the near future, but what is ‘she’ really, fundamentally? You see if she would’ve chosen a different career, or a different career would’ve been chosen for her, would ‘she’ be someone or something else? Or would that just have been another role the real ‘she’ would’ve taken up, like the numerous she already plays – daughter, friend, partner, lawyer, Indian, etc? Who is this constant ‘she’ really? If we could get to that, maybe we could get to the bottom of the seemingly bottomless pit after all. Let’s try further.
So, she is playing the role of a 24 year-old lawyer right now, maybe sufficient backtracking would help us uncover the constant ‘she’ who’s been behind it all this while. So what was she a few years ago? A student somewhere perhaps. And before that? A little girl playing in the school yard maybe. And before that? A new-born baby maybe. And before that? This is where it gets interesting doesn’t it? Because before that, it’s almost as if she was asleep and doesn’t remember the dream she was dreaming.
You may question that did she even exist before being born. And it’s a valid question, because in our day-to-day life experience, we experience ourselves in our bodies. We identify with the body, and it’ll be a very normal thing to say that ‘I am nothing but my body, and my idea of my self is also a part of my body.’ If you take that deeper, you’d hit upon the idea that you started in a maternity ward somewhere and will end up in a crematorium somewhere or be burned up, basis what suits those that survive you. And that your life is just something that happens between those two events. I don’t deny this idea, but the right adjective I have for it is that it is incomplete.
You see if you are nothing but your body, you are an accumulation. Because that’s what your body is, isn’t it? You were a little baby just a few years ago, and you’ve accumulated so much since. But you see if that was true, and you were nothing but an accumulation, you’d have to start out of something, right? An accumulation has to start somewhere. So where and when did ‘your’ accumulation start? At the time of your birth? No, you know you existed before that too, when you spent that time in your mother’s comfortable womb, sleeping with not a worry in the world. So when did YOU start?
We’re back where we left, aren’t we? The question of what you were before you were born. I think the most reasonable answer to that is that you existed in some form in your parents. Call this form genes, call this form chromosomes, call it what you want, provided you don’t confuse the word for the thing. You existed in some form in your parents before you were born. Right, so where does that lead us?
If you existed in some form in your parents before you were born, the same applies to your parents too. They existed in some form in your grandparents, which essentially means that you existed in some form in your grandparents. So, you keep taking this recursion back, as far back as you can. When I say as far back as you can, I mean take it all the way back to the very origin of everything, call it the Big Bang if you will. And where that leads you is to a visualisation that every one or rather every “thing” came from and in fact IS the same “thing”.
Now relate this to the example of the ink pot we talked about in the very beginning of this episode. This “thing” we just reached, which is what every other “thing” IS at its very core, is THE ink. And every drop of that ink, though separated from the whole collection of ink, is nonetheless THE ink, no matter how overwhelmed it is by its everyday drama.
And this “thing” is the real, incorruptible, (well, as incorruptible as I can manage in words right now in this narration) definition of the word “God”. And we are each IT. Each of us. It’s not out there somewhere way up in the sky or way down in the future. It is HERE, each moment in the present – NOW. If only we would unlearn the attachments to the drama of our everyday lives, we would see this as probably the most important objective truth of our lives.
The Advaita Vedanta, which is often considered as the pinnacle of wisdom in all of eastern philosophy and religion, has this as the central message. Advaita means non-dual. And non-dual literally means that which has no other. That which excludes nothing, that which includes everything, that which is one with everything. That which is the ink we just talked about, that which is the “thing” we just talked about. That is what God is. And that is what you are. That is what I am. Or rather, that is what each of our “I’s” actually is. Again, “I” as in the letter “I” and not the organ “eye”.
In our everyday lives, our “I” is completely consumed by the whirlpool of thoughts, feelings, sensations and emotions. And we identify with this whirlpool all the time. This whirlpool is our usual everyday ego. Our usual everyday sense of who I am, what it means to be me, etc.
And it is an important part of our lives. This “I” is how we navigate through the world, how we find out what’s important for us and what isn’t. It is the lens through which we see the world in and around us. It is our consciousness.
But like every lens, it has its limitations. It has its blindspots. It can only let a limited amount of the light in. And what we are talking about here, is the deepest blindspot our lenses have.
You see, human consciousness, while it is a beautiful process that allows the human organism to make sense of its environment, is also a limiting process. It is in its very nature to ignore certain aspects of reality out of the picture. And what we are talking about here, is the deepest aspect that is left out by everyday human consciousness.
Just like that inkdrop, if conscious, would not see much else apart from its own everyday drama, the human organism doesn’t see much else apart from its own everyday ego and the story built in its head around it.
— — —
If you tuned in to the third episode of this podcast, I was dispelling a very common misinterpretation in that talk. I was talking about how for most people, the word God equals creator. This is a misinterpretation, but it’s also funny how seriously close it is to the truth too. I mean look at it from the lens of the talk we just had right now. That thing we just talked about, that ink, that non-dual thing, is God. And that thing is also the creator of every other thing. In that sense, we’re right to say that God is the creator.
But where the common interpretation diverges from the truth is that we separate the creator from the created. We imagine that the creator is someone out there somewhere, who has created all of this and is now very far away from everything he has created. Which is simply not true. So, more than understanding God as the creator, I’d say that it is better to understand God as the creative principle, the creative process which is abundantly present every time everywhere. In fact, that is all there is.
To give you an example, you create all the time. You grow your hair, you grow your nails, most of us can create more human beings like us. The plants around us create leaves, create flowers, create more plants, etc etc.
We are all the creator, and at the same time, are also the created.
— — —
Whatever I’m sharing here is not an argument from authority. I’m not asking you to believe any of it. This is merely an invitation to contemplate on it. That is how all of this came to me too. It’s not my truth. It is an objective truth. It is what man’s search for completeness and freedom and liberation has always been about. It is what religions have always been about.
Well, I will not be so naive as to say this for all religions, because I haven’t studied all religions. No one has.
But deep down, almost all the religions have this as the very heart of their teachings.
The Hindus, when they said, “Tat twam asi” quite literally meant “You are IT.”
When they said, “Aham Brahmasmi”, it quite literally meant “I am Brahma”, or “I am God.”
When the Sikhs said, “Ik oangkar, sat nam”, they meant, “That one thing created everything, and its name is the Truth.”
When the Buddhists said, “Be one with everything”, this is what they meant.
Yoga literally means Union – union of the little self, the little “I” with the supreme self, the universal consciousness.
When the Jains talk about the liberation of the soul, or rather when all the eastern religions talk about liberation of the soul or moksha or enlightenment or Nirvana, they refer to this realisation.
The Atma is equal to the Paramatma. The small self, our little ego, our “I” is actually the supreme Self. Is actually the universal consciousness. Is actually God.
And I haven’t studied many western religions, but I am given to understand by many philosophers who have, that this oneness is also at the core of the teaching of Jesus Christ and also Prophet Mohammed.
— — —
But alas, the core of the human condition is that we can translate whatever we hear into our own familiar language, and it doesn’t take much effort for us to start believing that our translation is what was said in the first place. You can see that translation happening in you if you are very silent. If you have never come across what I just talked about in this episode, chances are that your brain is right now trying to appropriate my words into a narrative that fits the one it already has – about your God, about your religion, etc.
Catch it in this action. You cannot stop it, you can never stop it. But you can become aware of it. And once you become aware of it, you know not to act on the thoughts, feelings, sensations, emotions powered by the false narratives. This is what I have always meant by unlearning. Slowly, but surely, in this manner, the truth appears to you. Just like you have no control over the false thoughts popping up in your head, you cannot force yourself to see the truth. You can only see your ego in action when you fear facing the truth, and when you translate it into “nothing new”.
As that poet David Whyte said, “Honesty is not found in revealing the truth, but rather in understanding how deeply afraid of it we are.”
For the bigger picture to rise in you, the smaller one must be unlearnt. And the awareness that there is a bigger picture, is sometimes enough for that job. You now know that there is a bigger picture.
One of the most potent advice you can give someone is to ask them to go within, or to know themselves.
We have all heard the old sayings from eastern philosophy. “Go within.” “Know thyself.”
I try in this episode to throw some light on these beautiful sayings. Join me as I walk you through a basic introduction to what it means to go within, what is the ego, what is the self and what are some illusions surrounding them.
Jiddu Krishnamurti, or Uncle JK as I fondly call him, used to say, “When I understand myself, I understand you. And out of that understanding comes love.” The man was right!
This surely will be worth your time, I promise. I wouldn’t be doing this if I thought otherwise.
In the previous episode, we talked about the word “God” and how it is usually misinterpreted to mean “The Creator” by almost all of us. A natural follow-up to that episode should be me talking about what the word actually means then. I concede to that, and that is what I’m going to try to get towards in this episode.
The important words in this sentence were “try to get towards”.
You see, in the olden days in the Indian tradition, it is said that people (both saints and otherwise) used to meditate for years altogether and would then finally get a glimpse of what the divine really is. Now, when I say they got a glimpse of the divine, I do not mean that a deity descended from the sky to greet them. That is a good idea for a TV show, and possibly one of the only ways to dramatically depict the idea, but it is not the truth. By getting a glimpse of the divine, I mean the understanding of what it’s all about, finally dawned on them.
What could be more divine, than understanding? One of the deepest, if not the deepest prayers we hold sacred in our hearts after all, is to get an understanding of what the hell is really going on? Out there! In here! Everywhere! And to have that understanding, is surely divine.
It is said that this understanding used to take years of earnest meditation to get to, and in the Indian tradition, people used to dedicate the later half of their lives trying to get to it. But we live in the information age now, where everything is available to us at the click of a button. And that too in a summarised format. So why would we wait an entire lifetime to get to it? Give me a brief overview of it and I’m all set.
Alas, this approach cannot work to reach the degree of understanding we’re talking about. You may gather all the words that summarise the understanding, but to really grasp what is being meant by those words, there is some work that has to be done. One has to unlearn a lot of what one thinks he/she already knows, one has to shine light on one’s own hidden beliefs and idiosyncrasies, etc etc. But more than anything, one has to really be willing to understand, and that means being willing to accept being wrong. Not wrong in the past, but wrong in the present moment.
So, consider listening to these episodes as the work that you’re doing to get a glimpse of that understanding. Of course, these episodes are like a finger pointing to the moon. They are not to be mistaken for the moon itself. We’ll try to reach it, slowly but surely.
Now then, what I wanted to cover in this episode is the idea of the ego. It is one of the key pieces to the jigsaw puzzle of Life, the universe and everything really. And this is another word which I had to unlearn a great chunk about. The word ego is usually confused with pride and arrogance, so if I was to say to you “You have an ego”, you would normally retort and get back to me saying, well let’s just say “not something too nice!”
But you do have an ego. All of us do. It just doesn’t mean being arrogant or being proud. Let me walk you through this.
Ego is actually the Latin word for ‘I’, and that is what it really means – a person’s sense of ‘I’. ‘I’ as in the letter ‘I’ not the organ ‘eye’. With my thick English accent, maybe it’s better to get that out of the way before you need to rewind to figure out what the hell this Indian dude was on about!
So, back to it. Your ego means quite literally your ‘I’. I am so-and-so, I feel so-and-so, I think so-and-so; we all say these sentences all the time. Whenever you’re saying or thinking in terms of ‘I’, it is the ego. And we all do that. So, we all have an ego. I hope you’d not be too mad if I said so now.
To have an ego barely means to have a sense of self, to have a sense of ‘I’. It doesn’t mean being proud or arrogant, etc. Of course, in everyday language, you can refer to pride in terms of ego with some adjectives. For eg: someone with excessive self-pride can be referred to as having an inflated ego. But whenever you encounter the word ‘ego’ in a philosophical text, or in this podcast, unlearn that previously learnt meaning. Know that ego refers to one’s sense of self. One’s idea of all of what comes underneath the word ‘I’.
And why is that important in the context of Life? In the context of God? In the context of understanding God?
Because your existence, after all, is maybe the first thing you can be absolutely sure of. I repeat myself – The fact that you exist, is maybe the first thing you can be absolutely sure of. Even if this entire world is a dream, you exist in that dream. Even if it’s a simulation, you exist in the simulation. So, it’s pretty obvious that any enquiry you do about the nature of the world around you should start with exploring yourself. This is what going within means. All of those old Buddhist and Hindu sayings you hear – “Go within!”, “Know yourself” – this is why they are saying all of that. The answers to our deepest questions lie hidden where we tend not to look – within.
You, your ‘I’, your ego – is the gateway to understanding Life, is the gateway to understanding God. And that is why the ego is important. Again, when I say ego, I do not mean your pride and self importance and arrogance. I mean your ‘I’.
Ok, so how do we go about exploring this ego? Well, for one, as is the case with any exploration, we’d have to observe it. Which is a tricky business really, observing yourself. But that is one of the beauties of our minds, we can do that. We can use our cognition, our thinking capabilities to turn its back and think about itself. In other words, we can go within. So let’s try and do just that.
What is this ‘I’ really? If you think about it, this ‘I’ is something that is consistently with us right from the time we’re born until we die. At all points in our waking state, and even in our dreams, we have a sense of ‘I’ – a consistent sense that there is a fixed entity that is behind all of this experience that we’re having. You know, a watcher behind all the sights that are getting registered, a hearer behind the sounds – an observer behind the observations. This is our ‘I’, we identify ourselves with this sensation – a fixed center somewhere behind the eyes and between the ears.
Now, one of the biggest illusions surrounding this ‘I’ is that it is a fixed entity. That is how we live our lives isn’t it? I will identify this constant entity ‘I’, which my parents got to name ‘Chetan Narang’, and I then go about telling everyone this is who I am, this is what I do, etc etc. In reality though, this ‘I’ is not a fixed entity, it cannot be. I mean, look at it from a little distance. The Chetan Narang who is speaking to you today cannot be the same Chetan Narang who was a rebellious teenager a few years ago; cannot be the same Chetan Narang who was a little toddler just trying his best to play some cricket a few years before that; would not be the same Chetan Narang who would maybe be recording episode 200 of this podcast some day.
But our own personal experience says otherwise. We experience this constant ‘I’ in the background always, and we feel that there is an element of everlasting experience in this ‘I’. Don’t you feel this way? I’m sure you do. You feel that there is something that has stayed the same in you right from your birth till this moment and you feel that that something would last till you die. Well, at least till you die.
This constant ‘I’ is an illusion. Not an illusion in the sense that it doesn’t exist, as is normally misinterpreted by a lot of “spiritual” people these days. It is an illusion in the sense that it is different from what it seems to be. Just like a mirage – when you see down a long road on a hot day and there seems to be water way down the road – that is an illusion, The road exists, the light, the heat, everything exists – but they together give the illusion of there being water.
In much the same way, we think a thousand different thoughts every day. We have been, ever since we came “out” of this world –
You see what I did there right? I hinted back at the last-but-one-episode of this show The separation fallacy. We do not come into this world, we come out of it.
Anyway, we think a thousand different thoughts and it is an endless process, and out of these thoughts also emerges the illusion of there being a constant entity behind these thoughts. Picture it in this manner – You light a stick of wood at one end or both ends, hold it in the middle and then swirl it around. If you get enough sticks to do this with, it will end up giving you the illusion of there being a constant ring of fire. Is there really a ring of fire? Of course not. It is an illusion generated by the movement of the sticks. Much in the same way as looking at a bunch of fishes swimming together in clear water can give you the illusion of there being one single big creature that’s swimming and not a thousand small fishes.
Such is the illusion surrounding our constant ‘I’ too. The real nature of our ‘I’ gets lost in identification with this constant nature of the illusion created by all of our thoughts and feelings and emotions and sensations., much like the ring of fire illusion created by all of those fast-moving, multiple fired-up sticks.
To put it in more poetic terms, this ‘I’, that me and you live under, is more a verb than a noun. It is constantly changing, ever evolving and is never as fixed as the illusion makes it to be.
But then, isn’t the next obvious question – what is the true nature of this ‘I’? What is the right, wholesome way of looking at the ego, at our own ‘I’?
Both very real, courageous questions. But I think we need to pause here. This episode has already gone on for longer than I had initially thought. And that’s fine really. We covered something quite fundamental today, fundamental to a whole bunch of other things we would be talking about in this show ahead.
For now, I’ll pause here and let you trip on all that this episode covered for some time.
As a short, sweet recap, I want to point out three key takeaways for you from this episode:
In this show, or rather in the philosophical context, ego does not mean self-pride or arrogance. Rather, ego refers to a person’s sense of self, their sense of ‘I’.
One of the biggest illusions surrounding this ‘I’ is that it is a fixed entity. It isn’t. Remember the ring of fire illusion. That is how our ‘I’ gets lost in identification with thoughts, feelings, sensations.
Last but not the least, do not expect to get in a few minutes or hours what used to take years of dedicated meditations for the saints of yesteryears. Do the work. The results will flow, as they always do.
Ohh that’s going to be an interesting one! For the somewhat less curious listener, I hope what I just said helped incite at least a little more curiosity than before. If not, I sure hope you turn up in the next episode anyhow.
Because after all, you do not know what you do not know.
Episode 3 – Is there a God? Is there a creator? (9 min)
Ironically, one of the most important words that mankind ever came up with is also one of the most misinterpreted words of all time. That word is “God”.
And that word also forms the bedrock of some of the most potent questions a human being can ask:
Is there a God? Is there a Creator? Are the atheists right? Do you believe in a God? What is the creator fallacy? Is there some truth about God? What must we unlearn about God?
As with most important things in Life, it is not learning new things that takes us closer to the Truth but rather unlearning what we already believe to be true. God is one topic that requires a great deal of unlearning to really understand.
Join me as I walk you through one of the biggest things I had to unlearn about God in my journey.
We interpret everything, that is the way we navigate the world. And every now and then, we come across things we misinterpreted in the past – could be something as trivial as a joke or a segment of a movie or a tv show, or could be something supremely crucial. I wish that by the end of this episode, you place the word ‘God’ in the latter category.
Yes, we’ll dedicate this episode to God. That came out more religious than I wanted it to, but let’s go with it. We’ll dedicate this episode to God, and in understanding what that word really means. Or rather, doesn’t really mean. Let’s see how it goes.
Up until a few years ago, I can say that, to me, God meant Creator. And that is the popular view almost all of us hold – God as the creator and manager of the creation, as someone out there somewhere, outside of the creation as we experience it, who created everything and subsequently also governs everything. If I’m honest, this is the image of God which I was brought up with, and so were all my closest friends around me, and so were my parents and their parents and theirs before them.
The images, names, prayers, rituals associated with this creator may differ for all us, mostly based on our upbringing, but all of us deep down hold this idea sacred to our hearts that the word ‘God’, whenever referred to, refers to the creator, who has created all of this world and everything that exists within it.
This image of God is a misinterpretation, but funnily so, it is actually so close to the real meaning that we get super lost in all the muddiness. I’m gonna try to dissolve the mud slowly. It will definitely take more than this episode, but every journey of a thousand steps starts with the first one. Let’s take that first step today.
Firstly, let’s talk about the creator, shall we? Is there a creator really? Let’s answer in the affirmative and say there is. Let’s say there is a creator who created everything. Whatever we see around us, including us, is the creator’s creation. Isn’t the next obvious question – “Then who created the creator?”. You may answer that in the affirmative too, but then the next question would be – “Who created the creator’s creator?” You may answer that with a Yes too, but I think you get the picture. At some point in this recursion, you’d have to step out and say – “This just exists.”
The idea of there being a creator away from the creation will definitely lead you to finally accept that “something” can exist without there being a “creator” apart from the thing itself. Just in that sense, there is no ultimate creator. So, the answer to the question of there being a creator is a firm No.
You see, the idea of someone creating everything is based on the way we humans make sense of the world. When a potter picks up some mud and very skilfully creates a pot out of it, we say the potter created the pot, which he did. In a similar manner, the world around us is full of so many “things”, so many beautiful and mysterious “things”, and it makes sense to us that someone would have created all of this at some point and has now left them for us to play with, of course having created us too in the meantime and all the while creating more and more “things” for ever and ever…
But it is just an idea, not the truth. And I just explained why above.
Now, this episode is not an endorsement for atheism, believe me. Because, all I am saying here is that the popular ideas we hold about the word God are themselves wrong, they are based on misinterpretations and beliefs. The problem with atheism is that it stops here. Just because you proved a misinterpretation to be wrong, doesn’t mean you now know the truth about the original thing. There is some work left to be done. I understood this very late myself. I was an atheist in my teenage years and my early twenties too, because I had blocked myself from even trying to understand God. For me, as is the case with a lot of people in my generation, God was something old and lost people dealt with and prayed to. But I was wrong. Or rather, to put it more precisely, I was incomplete.
I remember that a few years ago, I was watching a video on youtube in which someone asked Osho – “Do you believe in God?”. And Osho’s reply, which staggered me at the time was, “I do not believe in believing.” I have since then stolen this line and made it my own. And I wish that all of you would do the same. Adapt this attitude in your life about everything. Try and understand, not believe. Well, if not everything, at least about the important stuff. And this is important. Almost everything else will flow naturally if you align yourself correctly here. But it takes time, it takes effort, it takes earnestness. And I hope you’re ready for it. Because if not now, when? If not you, who?
A week or so before I started recording this episode, a very close friend of mine shared with me a quote from a book he was reading at the time. And it gelled so well with all I wanted to say here, and also the general theme of this podcast overall that I told him I’m going to definitely quote it. It’s from a book called “LSD and the Mind of the Universe. Diamonds from Heaven – by one Chris Bache”, and it goes like this:
“All forms, even the glistening splendour of archetypal forms are intermediaries to that which lies beyond form. As the author of the 14th century Christian mystical treatise The ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ reminds us: “if we ever hope to glimpse the true nature of the divine, we must unlearn everything we have been taught about god.””
Let me stress that last part again, “If we ever hope to glimpse the true nature of the divine, we must unlearn everything we have been taught about god.”
I shared, in this episode, the biggest thing I had to unlearn about God. I hope it inspires the same unlearning in you too. To avoid misinterpreting it as an endorsement for atheism, please listen to the episode again.