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Has one actually understood anything? || (2015)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
7 min
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Questioner: Acharya Ji, how to know if I have actually understood anything?

Acharya Prashant: Understanding is not something you can fathom. There is nothing ever called an understanding detector. The mind can never have a meter to assess understanding. Understanding is bigger than you. You will never be able to measure it. You do not have a measuring tape that can take a note of a measure of understanding. To say, “I understand”, is the most preposterous statement. You cannot be more arrogant than when you say, “I understand.”

What is certain is if you are thinking about understanding, then you don’t understand. “I don’t understand” can sometimes be an honest statement. But ‘I understand’ can never be an honest statement. Understanding is undetectable. If it cannot be detected, how are you certain of it? How are you making your claim? Are you getting it?

But we feel very empty. We feel very powerless if we cannot say, “I understand.” And when the other one is explaining something to us, he too expects that we admit that we have understood. In fact, if an ordinary teacher explains something to you and asks, “Have you understood?” and you stare (staring at the ceiling) blankly! Then he might take it as an affront. He will say, all his efforts have just gone to waste. "You are such a dull student!”

One just reads attentively. One just does not give herself the license to roam about. One just remains present, and presence is natural and obvious. Absence is forced, deliberate, and artificial.

Understanding is a natural result of your presence. But it is not a result that is mentally detectable. It just happens. If you are just sitting here silently, then your silence is a guarantor of understanding. Are you getting it?

How will you ever know whether you understand? In the moment of requirement, in the moment of response, you will find that you know. That is the proof of understanding. The proof of understanding is not knowledge. The proof of understanding is the fullness of response.

You understand the difference between these two? Please, don’t say 'Yes!'

The difference is, the knowledge is always ready-made. Knowledge is like a ready-to-use weapon. You have knowledge in your arsenal, and you know that the weapon is there with you. So when the situation comes, you can use this ready-made weapon to defend yourself, to solve your problems, for whatever purpose you may want to. Are you getting it?

That is what is knowledge.

Knowledge is a weapon that you know of in advance. You know that you know. And when you know that you know, then you also know what kind of problems you can face with your knowledge. And what kind of problems you cannot face with your knowledge. And knowledge is always limited which means only certain types of problems can be dealt with using your knowledge.

Understanding is different. You will never know that you have understanding. But you will have an unreasonable confidence. So, when the situation arrives, your understanding will show up in the greatness, the completeness, the forcefulness, the exactness of your response. Where that response is coming from, that you will never know, and you must not even try to know.

Your response will surprise not only the other but also you. You will ask yourself, “Where did that come from. I never knew that as knowledge, still it has appeared from nowhere to help me.” Understanding then is like an invisible hand that keeps helping you. It’s like a blessing that is with you without your observance, without your permission. Like an angel, sent by God that comes to you in the hour of your need. It is not always there with you. But when the situation arises and the need arises, it comes. You cannot make it captive, hold it, look at it, and feel sure of it. But that is certain, if you have faith, then there will be this angel available to help you. That is understanding.


Understanding means you can travel light. You do not need to carry knowledge with yourself. Understanding means you can face the other without weapons. Understanding means that you do not need to carry your gun with you. When the time will arrive, you just raise your hand and you will find that the gun has appeared and then you can shoot! And when the moment has gone, the gun too goes away. You cannot keep the gun with you and keep looking at it and feel big. Understanding does not help you feel big.

Elsewhere, someday, I have said that understanding is like an empty pocket. A pocket that otherwise remains empty but in your hour of need, it gives you and gives you only exactly as much as you really need. So you don’t have to worry, and you don’t have to walk around with a lot of load. You’re walking empty but if the need arises and you put your hand into it, you get exactly as much as is needed. That is understanding. Are you getting it?

Life comes up with a situation and you know how to respond, that is understanding.

How do you know how to respond? Not because you have learnt it; not because you have accumulated knowledge; Not because it is coming from your memory; You will never know where it is coming from! Getting it?

So, kindly leave understanding alone. Don’t try to touch it! But one feels like a fool. Having written entire book, one wants to tell himself, “I have understood!” If someone comes and asks, “So, six hundred pages, what did you get?” One must have something to tell. And with understanding, this is a problem. There is a lot of usefulness but no bragging value. It is very-very useful in the time when it is really needed. But when it is not really needed, and you want to use it just for display, then it will not help you promote yourself! It is not an object of ostentation. You cannot use your understanding to impress others. You can use your knowledge to impress others. Are you getting it?

Don’t bother to enquire, “Have I understood?” Please!

Go into it with all your honesty! And that is sufficient. Go into it with everything that you have. And go into it, prepared to shed everything you have. And that is sufficient. Don’t bother about the consequences. Don’t try to assess how much will you get and what will you get. Yes?

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