I am J. Sri Bhagovwid, and today I want to talk about what is wrong with the past, and why we need to slough it off. A questioner wanted to debate me. This is good. I don’t want meek followers looking to absorb wisdom. True seekers question and challenge authority unless or until they are persuaded. Below is the transcript of our discussion.
Questioner: I’ve been thinking about your inspirational quote about the past being like snake skin.
JSB: It’s not inspirational. “Inspiration” is scented toilet paper and a fresh coat of peach-colored paint on the lavatory. It just makes you feel better about shit. It doesn’t change it.
Questioner: OK. Fine. Whatever kind of quote it is, I have some problems with it.
JSB: Naturally. If you didn’t you’d be a gullible, half-wit dribbling spittle off your chin. Please, what problems did you find?
Questioner: Well, to start with, if one were to truly shed one’s past, one would be walking around with amnesia.
JSB: Stop there. Don’t be so literal, my friend. I’m not advocating getting lobotomized and stumbling about aimlessly sputtering inanities.
Questioner: But if you have your memories, than you have your past. You say, “shed your past,” but it’s meaningless mumbo jumbo. If you really got rid of your past you’d be like a zombie. You wouldn’t be able to function in society. If you were a doctor, you wouldn’t be able to operate. If you were a musician, you wouldn’t be able to read music or play your instrument. Why bother going to university if one bright sunny day, you are going to dump it all to sit cross-eyed in a cave smiling at spider webs? How can you dump your past and keep your memories?
JSB: I’m so glad you ask such questions. I don’t want someone to mesmerize himself at something I say and walk away on a cloud of self-induced bliss that is just a flush of hormones. And tomorrow morning he is flipping people off in road rage. You ask how can you shed the past and keep your memories, knowledge and skill. You think it’s a hypocrisy to say, “I have abandoned the past, once and for all, and I remember everything.” So, let me ask you, have you ever worn a uniform or had a dress code?
Questioner: Yeah. I used to play baseball and of course we had uniforms.
JSB: Perfect. When you were done playing baseball what did you do with the baseball uniform?
Questioner: I threw it in the wash.
JSB: You stopped wearing it? Why?
Questioner: Because when the game is over you switch to street clothes.
JSB: Why switch out of the uniform? Isn’t it comfortable?
Questioner: Because it probably stinks, for one. Two, the uniform is suitable for playing baseball, and it’s not that comfortable for other things. For example, I don’t need to wear an athletic supporter to sip coffee in Starbucks. And I definitely couldn’t wear a baseball jersey to work!
JSB: When you are at work you are not a baseball player?
Questioner: Not unless I’m a professional baseball player, which I’m not.
JSB: So, you can cast off the baseball uniform. You can stop being in the role of a player on the field. And yet you don’t have to burn the uniform. You can keep it folded in a drawer and take it out when you need it.
JSB: And as it is with the uniform, so it is with your identity, including all of your history and knowledge. You don’t need to wear it all the time. You can forget about it but go and retrieve whatever you need when you need it. So, you see, you don’t need to forget the past. You just need to take it off of your back. You don’t need to carry it at all. You can let it go completely. Trust me, it will still be there, like tools floating in a space capsule. You don’t need to hold on to them with a pincer-like grip. Or, better yet, don’t trust me. See for yourself. Have you even been put under?
Questioner: When I had my wisdom teeth out I was unconscious.
JSB: You were gone and didn’t feel a thing. Yes?
Questioner: Nothing. I didn’t know anything had happened. I thought we hadn’t started yet.
JSB: But when you recovered consciousness everything was still there in your mind? You knew your name, address, phone number, and all those passwords?
Questioner: It might have taken me a minute to get it all back.
JSB: But that was because of the drug, and not because you’d lost access to the information.
Questioner: Right. I was groggy.
JSB: There it is. You let go of everything. You had no choice. You blacked out. But then when you came to, it was all still there. And yet, once awake you need to hold on desperately. It is the natural development of the ego within the context of language and meaning. The mind is afraid that if it lets go of the string of language and meaning it will perish. It thinks it’s something like a kite tenuously connected to the world through the thread of language in time. But the string has been cut and it wasn’t a problem. This is because you are not the ego, even though you believe you are. The ego is in you. You are not it, or in it. Use it as a tool, and don’t let it make a tool out of you. Your identity is your ego.
Questioner: Right. I get it. Take off the uniform of your identity. But what for? How is that supposed to help me grow? How about you tell me how it’s supposed to work?
JSB: Look at a child. That little girl over there for example. She doesn’t like carrots or broccoli. She’s very certain about that, and you should see the scowl she produces if you try to tell her that they are tasty. She doesn’t like to mix her food, either. Potatoes over here, and meat over there. They cannot touch each other. But you and I both know that in another decade she’ll be eating everything and mixing her food and demanding more sauce and condiments on top of it. You can’t persuade her of that NOW.
Questioner: That’s normal. I didn’t like mushrooms when I was young. You grow out of it.
JSB: But to eat the mushrooms you had to let go of the idea that, “I am such-and-such a type of person who does NOT like mushrooms and will NEVER eat them.”
Questioner: I don’t think anyone really thinks about it that much. They just one day decide to try a mushroom and they like it.
JSB: Of course they’re not thinking about it. Can you imagine the inner dialogue about should I or shouldn’t I change my identity and in what way? But for a while they are very stubborn, because they believe they are not mushroom or broccoli eaters. A teenager may only like pop music and adamantly hate various other kinds of music, like country or classical or jazz. But later, they will change and know that they outstripped their former selves. What needs to happen is that the old concept of self needs to be shed.
Questioner: And then one puts on a new identity that’s a little bigger, like a new set of clothes.
JSB: Until one abandons them altogether. Not clothes. Please, keep your jeans on. It’s your identity that needs to be shed. If you let go of all concepts of identity, then what are you?
Questioner: An amorphous blob of ectoplasm?
JSB: You sarcastic bastard, that’s not bad. You keep that idea. You are an amorphous blob of ectoplasm masquerading as a human being. That’s a step in the right direction. Later you can let go of that blob as well. But please, keep your clothes on, at least around me. I’m not a part of all that New Age, nudist colony, inspirational razzmatazz.