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How to know the subconscious mind? || Acharya Prashant (2016)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
30 min
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Acharya Prashant: What is it that is lying hidden but waiting to come out?

Listener: Subconscious.

AP: And what is there?

L: That which is not in conscious.

AP: (Smiles) and are they two related?

L: Yes.

AP: So, the conscious is talking of the subconscious, at least that much relation is there. What does the conscious mind know of the subconscious?

L: Unpredictability, only the feelings and characters.

AP: What lies there in the subconscious?

L: Something which conscious cannot comprehend and lot of things which we have supressed. For example, individuality which we are inferring only now, comes from the subconscious, without we being conscious of it.

AP: So, what does the conscious mind know of the subconscious?

L: Feelings and emotions.

AP: They are all conscious within the domain of active consciousness

L: But the root is the subconscious…..

AP: So, feelings and emotions are there in the subconscious. What else is there in the mind? Then, is there anything that does not have a root in the subconscious? We were talking of the relation between subconscious and the conscious, and you said that feelings and emotions of the conscious mind are rooted in the subconscious. Is there anything in the conscious mind which is not rooted in the subconscious?

L: I would say no.

L: Awareness, rationality

AP: Is it out of the demand of rationality that you demand to be rational? My question is, operating from a point of rationality, you choose something. You say that it is good to be rational so I choose A over B. How did you choose rationality itself?

L: That is a faculty we have got?

AP: Was that a conscious decision? I am choosing rationality which means that rationality has not yet come. I am going to be deciding, to be deciding in a rational way, right? Now, from where does rationality come? What makes me decide that rationality is good?

L: Because we have choice.

AP: Right, you have choice but why do you choose A over B? When you normally choose A over B, you say you are using the instrument of rationality. My question is why did you choose this instrument in the first palce? Was that a conscious decision?

AP: So, rationality itself is rooted in the subconscious, rationality itself is not very rational.


The products of rationality are all rational choices. But, to be rational itself is no rational decision (smiles). There is nothing in the conscious mind which is not coming from the subconscious. And there is nothing in the subconscious which is not coming from another place which consciousness, whether explicit or hidden, is not even touched.

When we say that something is fully in the domain of consciousness it only means we are not yet looking at that thing in its totality. It is like looking at the leaves of a tree and saying that the tree is all located above the ground. Obviously, if you are looking only at the leaves you feel that the tree is only above the ground. When you look at the whole thing, it is always rooted down somewhere. There is nothing that we do that is not coming from an old dark cave of primitive tendencies. Even the most sophisticated, learned, knowledgeable civilized action is coming from the same point from where the caveman operated. It is just that its expression and manifestation has changed. What is not changed, let us look into it.

What was it that the caveman wanted when he took any decision? Let us say he is deciding to kill an animal, or move into another cave, or to rub two stones to get fire, or to chase a particular woman, or to build a weapon out of stone for himself, what is he wanting is all these pursuits? We all want the same…

L: To continue himself.

L2: Some kind of security.

AP: Wonderful, a continuation of the self, some kind of security. Here is the rationalist, year 2016, and he is writing a book and he is addressing conferences, he is teaching, he is expressing. What does he want?

The same thing

It is just that the expression appears to be drastically different.

L: But the caveman has knowledge of this motive of continuing himself, and in modern case this awareness is so weak…

AP: Would you call it weak, or would you call it covered?

L: Weak.

AP: Because you are using the word awareness in context of knowledge, when you are saying that the caveman was aware of his motives or his roots what you mean is that he had knowledge of this. My question is: What if the caveman had no language, did he still have knowledge?

L: Yes, a basic knowledge, not verbal.

AP: Then you say that he had a particular tendency.

That tendency is there with the modern man also. You see it is just that this man, the rationalist has a very advanced language, and in that language he doesn’t call fear as fear this modern pragmatist calls his fear as ambition. So, I would rather say that his consciousness of what he is doing is covered under language. When he is chasing a woman, he is not just chasing. He is calling it love. So, the fact of his consciousness, that he wants security, he wants continuity, is buried under the word love. Do we see this?

This is getting us to a very important point in understanding the relation between subconscious and conscious. What we call as conscious is only that which we express in words. Our entire world is expressible in words, otherwise it does not exist. Subconscious is the tendency, ego tendency, and conscious too is this ego tendency. The conscious mind is the one in which the ego tendency has taken the shape of images, sounds, words, forms, symbols; symbols of any kind, they may not necessarily be words.

So, to draw this distinction between conscious and the subconscious, is it really fair? It is the same totality of mind and movement, same old mind which is afraid, which wants protection, which thinks that death will come and consume it. So, it is looking for continuity in lot of ways. What are the ways in which we look for continuity?

L: Progeny

AP: So, by reproducing we feel that we will gain immortality. Even if I am not there, some part of me will survive in time through my child. That is one way for trying for immortality.

You see, there is something about us that really loves immortality, there is something about us which is in close contact with immortality. That is why, all the time we are chasing immortality. That is why we don’t like death. Surely, we have some contact with deathlessness. So, procreation is one way of trying to regain immortality. The same immortality of which we already have some kind of–I will not call it some experience– primitive memory. What are the other ways in which we want continuity and have it?

L: Name and fame

AP: So, others should continue respecting me. Oh, that is the caveman talking. My fame should not take a beating. Now, how does respectability, how does name and fame contribute to continuity? How does man expect to defeat time by being respectable or popular? What is the inner calculation?

L: After he passes away, his deeds remain.

AP: Lovely. And just as we are afraid that time will eliminate us, the dual friend of time, space, we are equally afraid that space too will eliminate us. How does fame and name help us in fighting the threat of space? If I have children then I am fighting the threat of time, if I have popularity then I am fighting the threat of space, how?

I might be sitting here, but I am being thought of over Slovania. So, I have defeated the expanse of space. Space is something that limits you, space is something that makes you feel small. Infinite space and I am present only here. But if I can be present in your mind, then I am present at many places at once. Do you see this quest for continuity? Do you see how afraid we are when we try to be known, to be respectable, to be acceptable? How else do we seek continuity?

L: Memory

AP: Wonderful. This could have come in the very first place. First of all we assume ourselves to be continuous.

Do you wake up and say that you are a new man? What do you assume yourself to be? The same one, who went to sleep. And that continuity, linkage is provided by memories: which is thought, which is the whole inner game that keeps on repeating itself. Now, can you see how relying on memories, and living in thoughts is a symptom of fear. Unless you are afraid of elimination you will not be particular about continuity. Unless you are afraid that you may not be there tomorrow, you will not think of future. Unless you are afraid that today your being means nothing, you will not try to relate yourselves to the past.

Why do you want to identify with the past? Because, you feel that without the past, today you mean nothing. If past is taken away, then your passport is taken away, your family name and home is taken away, all your belongings and knowledge is taken away. And without these we feel empty. So, it is important to live in the past, because past gives us identification and hence life, life of the mental kind.

How else do we want to go on and on and on, and never cease? You know, the funny part is, if we have such an overwhelming desire to go on and on, surely we know that some deep fun lies in being beyond time. Do you see this?

What we often call as just normal human behavior, is not normal. It comes from a point of fear. We behave in these ways because the caveman inside us is still afraid of the dark. It is not common sense, it is the caveman. And why must the caveman still live within you? Those ancient fears, why must they still live within you? It is not normal to be possessive, sorry. Don’t take that as a synonym of love. It is not normal to be inattentive It is not normal to be territorial. It is not normal to hesitate. In existence, nothing hesitates.

Have you seen animals, babies of animals? With zero knowledge they do not hesitate. Man alone hesitates so much. These are all that same inner tendency, till we keep giving it patronage, till we keep justifying it and calling it normal, it will maintain a stranglehold on our life. Language deceives, do not give acceptable or even beautiful names to fear. Call X as X, and you need not use too many words. Because that ancient threat is just one – “I will be no more.” That is the only fear that one has. When you see diverse fears, remember that if you examine any of those fears, you ultimately come to this single fear – “I will be no more.” This is the substance of subconscious.

Let me put it in another way. The conscious mind says, “I am X.” It is a knowledgeable mind, it is a product of civilization, it has language. So, it has, in its cleverness, chosen something as a support, “I am an Indian, I am a father, I am a doctor.” The ‘I am’ now has a crutch. This is the conscious mind. Don’t forget that the conscious mind operates in language and the language has a subject and an object. Language always operates in duality.

Then there is a subconscious mind. The subconscious mind, knows only fear. It constantly feels attacked, invaded. It keeps saying, “I am, I am, I am.” And this ‘I am’ is not the Upanishadic affirmation of Being. This ‘I am’ is a desperate search for a partner. ‘I am – BLANK, I am – BLANK’, and this BLANKNESS keeps crying out to be filled in whatever way possible – Become attached to something, to a person, to an idea, to a thing, to a memory.

And then even beneath the subconscious is what one calls as the pure self, the ‘I’ alone, the ‘Self’ alone. But it is not very useful talking of that. Because when we are unable, even to penetrate into the subconscious, then trying to go even beyond the subconscious, into the pure Self, is taking the matters too far. The fact is that the ‘I’ being non doer, does not present itself to language. Language can only express something which starts and ends, which is an object.

For today, it would probably suffice to say that it is very important that we see that the usual, apparently normal, actions and activities, of the so-called conscious mind, have a dark and hidden, subconscious background to them. It is not for nothing that you start liking a man or a woman, a particular face. It is not for nothing that you develop a fascination for a particular kind of dress. It is not for nothing that you hate some sound.

Just calling something as a mania or phobia, does not explain that thing. If you have named something, does that mean that you have understood that thing? Does it mean that you ‘know’ that thing? When somebody behaves in a particular way then you say that he is being jealous. What have we done here? We have taken behavioral patterns and mapped them to a sound. And this is what we call as naming. Does that mean that we understand what jealousy is? We have named everything. We have named this floor, pillar, light, bulb, the whole universe is names, names and names. Does that mean that we understand any bit of this universe?

L: Not necessarily

AP: Well, if you are answering this in probabilistic terms, let me ask you, is it possible to totally understand one thing and not understand the another thing? If you are saying, “not necessarily”, then you mean – sometimes yes, sometimes no. You have now made it something statistical, stochastic in nature. I am asking you, is it possible to ‘know’ this man, without knowing this ceiling above? Is it possible to ‘know’ even a blade of grass, without knowing the entire universe? If anything were missing in this universe, would a blade of grass still be there?

Had the universe not been exactly as it is, would the blade of grass be found? But you say, “no, no, no, the blade of grass is small, I understand it, the dinosaur is big, that I don’t understand.” Is ‘understanding’ fragmented or partial? Is it possible?

“Yes sir it is possible”, we would like to claim that – “No, this much I understand, but that much I do not understand.” Is this kind of statement, factual?

L: I might have knowledge about something but not of something else…

AP: I am not talking of knowledge, I am talking of understanding. I am not talking of having a database of all diversity in your head. What is ‘understanding’? When will you say, you ‘understand’ what is going on right now? Will you say that when my words resonate with your pre-existing concept? Find a fitment there. Is that ‘understanding’?

L: Usually

AP: Usually, that is when we say we have understood. But what really is ‘understanding’?

L: Know fact as a fact

AP: Know fact as a fact, and then to know that facts do not stand on their own legs. You will call the wall as a fact, the wall does not stand on the ground. The wall stands with the support of the subject that you are. Understanding is not just about knowing fact as a fact. ‘Understanding’ is also and more importantly, the dissolution of the fact. The fact too is gone. When you just know the fact, then you have knowledge, not understanding. ‘Understanding’ is the disappearance of knowledge.

So, there can be no partial understanding. There can be no, knowing this and not knowing that. When I am using the word ‘knowing’, I do not mean ‘knowledge’.

Now, we had said that we must go honestly and carefully, into what we call as our normal behavior. And in our normal, everyday life, it becomes very important for us to be settled about a few things. Is that not so? Life anyway offers so much of insecurity, we want to feel that at least a few things are secure. Because if they are not secure, then we would like to think about them, that is our only response to insecurity, more thought.

What do you do when you feel threatened? You start thinking. And thought is laborious, tiresome. So, we don’t want to take a few things as insecure. We want to label them as secure, “this is secure, and no more discussion on this, this matter is closed.” But honesty demands that even that must be brought under the purview of sincere examination. Is there anything that we really know? This challenges our inner sense of security, this question is not a very welcome question. Even as I am saying this, there would be something in you that would be resenting this question because we all want to have pillars of trust, in our life. We all want to have people and memories and systems that we can call as infallible.

The whole issue is that in our lexicon, enquiry is the same as doubting. So, when I say that everything needs to be enquired, because understanding is either total or totally missing. Then we do not enquire, we cannot enquire, because enquiring would mean suspecting. No, enquiry is not doubting.

Enquiring about something is an act of great love. So, you are not well, I am enquiring. Behind the enquiry, lies love. I want to know, who you are, not because I have ill intentions. But because I sense a certain beauty, that is enquiry. Enquiry is closeness. But when you will enquire then it is possible that the other person may become aggressive. You are enquiring just because you want to know. Because ‘to know’ is so beautiful. But the other person may think that you are enquiring in order to expose or offend. You must be prepared to take that risk. That is the price you must pay for living honestly.

The more you will see the shadows of your subconscious in your everyday behavior, the more your mind will become free of those shadows. The more you will start seeing that you live in fear, the more you will find that fear as an illusion. So, don’t hesitate. Don’t just label something as dark, unknowable, hiding in the subconscious and therefore justify your separation, your distance from it.

Every bit of subconscious expresses and reveals itself in your conscious behavior. There is nothing in the subconscious that is really hidden. Your actions, your everyday living, your thoughts, if you are attentive to them will show everything that is contained even in the deepest corners of the mind. And once it is ‘seen’, it is gone. It is like being afraid of something which is not there. Once you have ‘seen’ that thing which is not there, that thing is gone.

This is, what is meant by a really meditative, a really spiritual life. A life in which there is no place for inner lies. A life in which you don’t accept something as okay or alright just because everybody is doing it. A life in which you do not look at yourself through other’s eyes. Instead, you have an inner eye of attention, continuously and silently open. A witness to the whole game of the mind. That involves taking risks, I am again acknowledging. It is not for the weak hearted, it is not for cowards.

You must be prepared to put your entire world at risk, because now you are saying “I do not know anything, so I am going and freshly investigating and when I freshly investigate, it may turn out that what I have thought to be precious all my life is just dust.” Now that means, that you who were a billionaire till yesterday, may become bankrupt in your own eyes, today. Because what you thought to be rubies and diamonds, were just ordinary stones.

But remember, when you get that eye which can call fake diamonds and fake rubies as fake, then you have also gotten the eye which will know and respect the true diamond. These happen together. Rejection of the false and coming of the true are one and the same thing. We want the coming of the true, but we are so afraid of rejecting the false. One cannot happen without the other. In fact, since we live mostly in the false, so for us, rejection of the false, in a way will come first. Without that, the true will always be elusive.

Nothing is so complex that it cannot be understood. Do not ever say, “Oh my God, this is so complex that I cannot really know it.” There is only one that cannot be known by the mind, that is the Truth, the beyond, the transcendental. Everything else can be known, everything else is just composed of the same few basic variables that were there in front of the cave man as well. I am saying that everything that belongs to the domain of the mind can surely be known, so do not escape away. Do not say, “Oh, my wife exhibits such complex behavior, even God cannot understand women.” Have you not heard such things?

All kinds of human behavior can be known and understood. Just ‘The One’ cannot be understood. Because ‘The One’ is ‘Understanding’ itself, so it cannot be understood. With this confidence that everything that is within the domain of mind can be understood through careful observation, careful and honest attention, proceed. Do not say, “Oh, that one, he is a holy man. When he is talking then no one comprehends what he is saying, but because he is a holy man, he must be saying something great.” No. A man is a man.

Have faith that whatever is there in the Universe, is just duality and even if it appears to be very arduous to know, yet it is in fact the very same old story; it would be either fear or greed, continuation, insecurity, one of those stale things. Now why can’t you know them? Surely, you can know them, provided you don’t give them new fancy names. Provided you do not give them complex academic definitions.

I met a researcher, he used to study the mind; psychology was his discipline. The entire page it was dealing with a description of a kind of psychosis. I asked him, why couldn’t you simply write, ‘Fear’. Why are you unnecessarily weaving a web of words around something that is so direct? He said, “No, no, no, it is a special type of fear, even if it is fear.” I said, what do you mean by type of fear? All types of fear make you tremble. Does your body differentiate between the types of fear? All kinds of fears make you feel uneasy. Does your mind differentiate between types of fear? Then why must your thought create this arbitrary distinction?

He said, “I am a researcher, I work in a University, my job is to create stuff which does not exist.” Fine. All can be known, know it, acknowledge it, confront it and you find that you have gone beyond it.

The key to the dissolution of the subconscious lies in the observation of the conscious. Will you remember this? The one who observes the conscious mind, is simultaneously, parallelly, dissolving the subconscious. The conscious gone, the subconscious dissolved, what remains is ‘You’. And that is ‘understanding’.

L: What do you mean by conscious gone?

AP: When do you say you are conscious of something?

(Silence) Were you really conscious of hearing me? That is what is meant by the going away of the conscious.

L: We are without objects as aim, then in our life…

AP: When objects are not important, even though they may be perceptible through the senses. But when an existential importance is not attached to them, then existential importance is parallelly also not attached to the dual opposite of objects, which is the ‘subject’. And that subject is ‘You’. So, the one who has stopped giving importance to objects has also stopped giving importance to himself. Now, he ‘Lives’. Now he just lives. And this is called freedom in living.

What is it Sir, that you call as giving importance to something? When you are giving importance to something, is it not fear? Now that appears a little shocking. Is ‘respect’ not fear? Is ‘importance’ not fear? If you are able to connect with me, is it because you are giving importance to what I am saying, or is it because you are ‘just present’. What we call as ‘importance’ or ‘value’, is it not just fear. The whole game of evaluation, or value to something.

How will it be, to live without giving importance, to live without attaching values? Do you know what it means to live without attaching values? It means to live without discrimination. How will it be, to not to find anything as special? What does the important do to you? Is it not a tension, is it not a load upon the mind? When you are asleep, is anything important? Nothing is left important and that is why sleep is relaxing. In sleep, you become valueless, now you are not valuing anything, except relaxation.

L: When it comes to importance, need and utility is the basis…

AP: So, ‘who’ needs? So, your lungs need oxygen, do you have to give importance to oxygen to breathe? Your body needs energy, glucose and many other kinds of chemicals. Do you really have to give importance to food in order to get food? Now here you would want to make a distinction, you would say air is freely available, food is not. I want you to go into this seriously. If lungs know from where to get air, and how to get it and how to process it, if the body knows how to process food, will the body also not know how to get food? Does the mind have to be involved?

There is the lung, right? And the lung knows how to get air and how to process it, you don’t have to think. You may still think, if you are a professional thinker, you may even think about breathing. But we do not want to apply the same yardstick to eating. When it comes to eating, we say, “No, I have to fend for myself, I must be responsible for earning my bread.” I am asking you, is the body not capable of getting its own bread, just like the lung. Must you interfere? Have you ever left the body free?

L: It will die out of starvation

AP: Why? Is it suicidal? Have you ever seen an animal grazing, or a monkey taking fruit from the tree? Do they require to think? Is it not the body in action? For sure, the body needs energy. Let the body need energy, why are you troubling yourself for it?

L: The body knows its ways

AP: Yes, does the body not know everything, do you even know 1% of what goes on inside your body? If the body has its own intelligence, will the body also not know from where to fend for itself? But we don’t let that happen.

Trust the body.

But you cannot trust the body as long as you have moral systems and social systems. All moral and social systems are mental, a product of thought. Are they not? The body is not a product of thought. Whom to support?

The answer cannot be theoretical. The answer will be strong and definitive only when you get a taste of what it means to live freely. Once you know what it means to live freely, then you do not need mental answers. Then you don’t even need to justify. Then you say, “I know” and that is God.

L: May be some other factor is also involved here, not only fear. A simple human being also likes to enjoy.

AP: Pleasure. But is there pleasure without fear? Let’s go into moments of pleasure.

A moment of pleasure is there. If you observe yourself or others in their moments of pleasure, what do you find? Don’t you find a clear tendency to consume pleasure? What does man do with pleasure? Man consumes pleasure. Does that happen or not? Is it possible to have the pleasure without the fear of losing it? Is it possible to have an experience of pleasure, without first being in pain? And is it not true, that the deeper the pain, the more stark is the relief from pain, which we call as pleasure. It isnot besides fear at all.

It is not very diverse, the matter is very simple. There is the Self, which is immortal. And then there is the rest of the Universe, which we can club all together as one word – Mind. And the mind is fear. So, there is either the Self or the fear, there is nothing else. We need not talk about a third entity. That is why words are such deceivers. They make us feel, as if there is a lot. Words make us feel as if there are too many different objects. As if the Universe is really a divided, diverse place. That is what words do. The fact of the matter is, it’s all one, call it mind. All that which appears is just mind. All that which ‘is’, is Self.

If we have a really really really advanced language, and languages keep on growing, and there is this tree in front of us, we can have a separate word for every cell of the tree. And you will call it the advancement of language, will you not? There is the bark of the tree, and the bark which is closer to the root will have one name, the bark which is a little higher up will have another name, the bark which is dark brown in color will have one name, the bark which is black in color will have another. You can have an infinite number of names pertaining to the tree.

These words make you feel, as if there are a multitude of realities. What is the fact? The fact is, there is just one tree. Language and thought have divided the tree into unnecessary parts. And then if we continue the same example, without language, is there really a division between the tree and the earth? And tree and the sky? All is just one. It is the thinking mind that divides the tree from the soil and the tree from the air. The danger is if the tree and the earth are one, and the tree and the sky are one, then the tree and me are also one. (Smiles) Now I am gone. So, thinking is necessary. We live only in our thoughts, such is our existence. No thoughts, no me.

L: What is there before thought?

AP: Sir, the word ‘before’ too is a thought. How can thought tell whether thought comes before thought? Is there ‘before-ness’, without thought? But we like to ask such questions, what comes before thought. Now, that is another thought. We want to know prior to thought by thinking. Will that ever happen?

Put all the jargons aside, Spirituality is basic honesty in living. Very very basic honesty. Do not hide behind words. Do not give decorated names to your suffering, and that is all.

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