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Consciousness versus Awareness || Acharya Prashant, on Nitnem Sahib (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
15 min
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Questioner (Q): Acharya Ji, my hormonal imbalance overpowers my ability to continue with conscious behaviour and forces me to continue with compulsive behaviour. How to be more conscious of my actions?

Acharya Prashant (AP): So, there is the type of behaviour that we call as ‘compulsive behaviour’, and she’s rightly relating it to bodily secretions, hormonal chemistry, latent tendencies, and such things. Something very visceral and overpowering just arises without notice and takes control of the being. That’s what we call as ‘compulsive behaviour’, right? And then, she has already thought of a remedy, and the remedy according to her is conscious behaviour.

In conscious behavior, the ‘I’ sense knows, knows in the sense of cognizing, knows in the sense of rather, ‘recognizing’, recognizing by pattern matching— detecting that it is the same pattern that arose at some point in the past, and at that point it was called by this name, so this being the same thing, I would again call it by the same name. In conscious behaviour, you recognize the pattern, and having already known that the pattern is dislikable or harmful, you take active and conscious measures to disrupt the pattern, right? The whole framework needs to be revisited a little.

That which we call as compulsive behaviour, even that is determined by the ‘I’ tendency. It is just that compulsive behaviour comes from a part of ‘I’ tendency that is not available to thought, and, therefore, knowledge. We very well know that what we call as knowledge is totally dependent on thought and words. No thought—No knowledge. No words—No knowledge. Compulsive behaviour arises from the deep, deep ‘I’ tendency where language does not exist. That part of our being that is common with trees, and animals, and with little kids. No language—just instincts. No thoughts—just surges.

So, when you call it compulsive behaviour, it is not as if you are facing a certain compulsion from somebody else. That, too, is you. You are under your own compulsion. You are under the compulsion of your own primitive being—the animal, so to say. The ego operates very much even in compulsive behaviour. In conscious behaviour, the ego comes to know of what is happening because the happening has come to the perceptible range of the senses.

As long as the primal, visceral, animal-like anger, or depression, or lust lies within—lies just hidden in the cells and tissues of the body—the conscious mind does not know of it. But when that same anger, or violence, or lust comes to the fore and starts manifesting in behaviour, then the conscious mind says, “Oh, something that should not happen is now happening.” And it is not always that the conscious mind wants to curb the activity of the compulsive unconscious mind.

Many a time, when the season is right and the opportunity is favourable, you even want to support the compulsive urges from within. Don’t you? So, do you see what is happening? There is the deep part of the mind from where waves of tendencies arise, and then there is a superficial part, which you call as the conscious part, that deals in thought, language, and knowledge. That decides, on the basis of what it has been taught and how it has been cultured and conditioned, whether or not to support the inner uprising.

We must remember that it is not always that we go against our visceral tendencies—not always. We, very frequently, support them as well, and we say, “Wow! It’s good fun!” So, conscious behaviour cannot really be the solution or anathema to compulsive behaviour because both of them come from the same ‘I’ tendency. Anger arises from within, and it’s a pattern with you, let’s say. If the moment is opportune, you might as well decide to vent out your anger and slap the little one standing in front of you. Then you won’t say that ‘My compulsive tendencies have to be curbed.’

But standing in front of the governor of the province, you will say, “Oh, anger is merely compulsive behaviour, and it’s so bad to be angry. One must not be angry. That’s what the Buddha taught.” Conscious behaviour is not merely conditioned, it is also very opportunistic. It is determined by expediency and morality. Then what to do? Be engaged with something beyond consciousness. Conscious behaviour may appear better than unconscious behaviour but is, nevertheless, not the best thing. The best is to be super conscious . The best is to be ahead of consciousness.

When you are engaged in something that is so very demanding, and immense, and beautiful, and absorbing that you do not even have the space, the opportunity to look back at yourself, and therefore be self-conscious, then all the activities in the conscious and subconscious domain fall in place by themselves. It is almost like this: You have a basement in your house, and you have a ground floor. The basement is big, and deep, and dark, and unvisited, and the ground floor is illuminated but, nevertheless, limited and small. A lot of things keep happening in the basement, but they go undetected.

But, many a time, the basement activity is felt even in the living room on the ground floor. Some stench arises. Some slimy, creepy thing makes its way to your living room from the basement, and then you become conscious of the basement. And then you say, “Well, the basement is a dangerous place, and I must do something about it.”

And it’s not always that the basement gives you stuff that is dislikable. One in ten times, you may have something coming up from there that you may as well want to accept—based on you need, your situation, and the opportunity. The living room is limited. Even if you are able to protect it from what is happening in the basement, you would still be living in a limited area, and this limited area would always be subjected to the dark vagaries of the basement. Those who have known, have told us to start living at a little distance from the complex itself . The ego immediately resists and says, “Well, it’s already bad enough when I am living on the ground floor. So much maintenance has to be done. If I leave the place and start living outside, god knows what might happen.”

But that’s the solution. The one who you are, cannot live in limitations. There is no great virtue in consciousness. Consciousness is merely a trained and conditioned dualistic way. Consciousness always implies the presence of two: The one who is conscious and the object of consciousness. And who is the one who is conscious? It is always the ‘I’ sense—the ego. You say, “I am conscious.”

This two-ness, this separation is the bane of life. Why think of it as the highest ideal? Why propose it as the best solution against compulsive behaviour? The wise ones, the knowers, the Saints, and great devotees have never lived conscious lives. In fact, those who have looked at them, have called them loonies, crazy people, who make no sense, and who have no idea of what is going on. As long as you decide to stick to consciousness, you will have to live in the limited room; you will have to live on the ground floor. And if you are living on the ground floor, then the basement is never far away. Be so very immersed in something beyond yourself that all the things that are happening in this complex—the basement, the living room—become immaterial to you. Do you get this?

Yes, the slimy thing has crept up from the basement to the living room, but it does not find anybody there. Why does it not find anybody there? Because you are outside. And that’s the thing with consciousness: it always requires two. And if the slimy thing does not find anybody, then there are no two. And if there are no two, then there cannot even be one. The slimy thing disappears when it does not find you in the living room.

For anything bad to happen to you, first of all, you must be there. If you are not there, to whom are all the bad things going to happen? Anger arises, it does not find you. Now, who will support the anger? Who will sustain the anger? Therefore, anger has to immediately fall down. Who keeps anger alive? The first surge of anger might be purely hormonal, but who keeps anger alive? It’s you who do that. If you do not support anger, how long can anger sustain by itself?

So, be absent! Be gone! If you are not there, anger will come up and then fall down. Do not rely on consciousness. Consciousness exacts too big a price for too small a service. Be gone! Be away! Be somewhere else. So, all those things are happening in the mind-body complex, but they are not happening to you. Are they happening? Obviously, they are happening. Are they happening to you? No, no. Is it bad? Obviously, it’s very bad. Is it bad for you? “Ah, well, I’ll have to find out. I am not there.” It’s raining. Is it raining for you? The hormones are doing their thing. The body is affected. Are you affected? Are you affected? No.

Instead, a lot of effort is applied in the wrong direction, and, unfortunately, even a lot of contemporary spiritual practice has to do with that wrong direction. We want to cut, control, or curb, or eliminate the basement. When bad things start happening to the body, we say, “Oh, no. Bad things are happening to me, and they should not happen to me. I want to stop these bad things.”

When bad things are happening to the body, and you say that “These bad things should not happen to me. I must stop them,” and sometimes you are indeed able to stop those things. There are several methods, including very material methods like drugs. Even if you are able to stop those things from happening to the body, still you have lost out in a big way. How?

Again, something was happening to the body—hormonal, chemical—and you said, “Bad things are happening to me. Look at my face; it’s flushing. Look at my hands; they are shivering. And the mind, it’s going bonkers. I want to control all these things.” And, let’s say, you succeeded in controlling all those things using some spiritual method or some drug. Still, I’m saying, you have lost out in a big way. How?

The body was shivering, and you said, “I am shivering.” So, even in fighting the body, or suppressing it, or defeating it, you have, inadvertently, admitted, and established that you are the body. It’s a bad defeat. It’s a very, very bad defeat. Now, the protection of the body too is important. So if it comes to a point where the body needs to be protected against its own inner mechanisms, then you provide the body with some relief of some nature. That is totally different thing.

But to say, “I am the body, and I am being affected, and, therefore, I need a remedy.” It’s different—different and very harmful. Compulsive behaviour, conscious behaviour, both come from two parts of the ‘I’ tendency—the ego. Conscious behaviour is the favourite of the ego, and therefore, probably, even more dangerous. Live a life so intense that you have no opportunity to ask or question: “Who am I, and where am I?” Many of you might be in that know-zone, even right now.

If you are really listening, then the listener would have dissolved by now. The two-ness would have evaporated. There is only a solitary connectedness; a connectedness in which there are no two to be connected. There is evidence from our life that this is possible. There is evidence all around us that it is possible. And if you go to the old-book-story scriptures, there is even more evidence that this is possible. This is not merely possible; this is only beautiful way of living.

Remain lost! Remain gone! Go beyond time and time stops. Become totally oblivious of time. Become oblivious of custom. You are not going to teach an Archimedes (Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, astronomer, and inventor) to be nicely dressed up before entering the street. You are not going to teach a Haridas (spiritual poet and classical musician) to not sing at midnight. You’re not going to teach a Karna (son of Sun God Surya in Mahabharata) that when the insect is gnawing away at the flesh in your thigh, then you better leave the Guru and take care of your body. There is life beyond the house. But we are, you see, born and brought up in the house, so we want to remain there. We are too big to remain contained in the house. Get out and get lost.

Q: Does intention have to do something with getting out?

AP: Suffering.

Q: Lot of times, we get out of the house and, habitually, come back—unconsciously—without even realizing we came back. How do we permanently stay out of the house?

AP: Don’t allow yourself. Fall so much in love with the vastness outside that even a minor separation becomes unbearable. You really have to fall in crazy love. That’s what I ask meditators: “If you really love peace so much, then why do you get up from your meditation? If peace is really so dear to you, how dare you breach the peace? Why does the whole thing stop at a point, and that too, at a predetermined point? 7 am in the morning it stops. What kind of date is this? Lovers do not meet to separate, or do they? And if they are meeting with a pre-appointed time for separation, then is it, love, at all?”

We have been trained to compromise, you see. Spirituality is super rebellion in which compromise is just not admissible. That’s what is meant when it is said that he is just one. One means no exception. One means no alternative. One means nowhere else to go to. No alternative. If you are with him, who else would you go to because there is nobody else? So, how are you breaking away? For what? When there is no option available, what are you taking a break for?

This optionless-ness, this choicelessness is very important to come to. And sadly, consciousness is all about options and choices. Unless you come to a choiceless state, you will remain wise, and careful, and intellectual in your own estimate, but all that would be just suffering. One has to come to the right one, and then, willingly, forsake all choices. One has to give up the right to choose. As long as you retain the right to choose, you are retaining the right to suffer. It’s just that giving up the right to choose is in itself a big suffering.

All our modern institutions are based on the right of choice, right? So, it has gone down very deep within us—free-market, laissez-faire, democracy. All the kinds of freedoms that are enshrined in the various constitutions of the world, they all operate assuming that man’s right to choose is, well, almost absolute.

But in the inner domain, that right to choose is itself your biggest enemy. It’s alright to vote or vote out a politician, but when you start voting for or against Truth and Liberation, then it’s a very bad choice to have. In the most significant matters of life, you must have no voting rights; you must be absolutely enslaved. And now you know why the Saints love to call themselves Das —slaves. We have no choice because if we have a choice, the choice would prove self-destructive.

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