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It is impossible to understand || Acharya Prashant, on Vedanta (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
9 min
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Questioner (Q): My question is on understanding, and I know you have talked about this a lot in many different videos. Somewhere in the past, you have said that understanding is not something personal, it is universal. And my question about this is: how an individual can, for sure, know that he has understood something? Or it is just not an illusion like a cerebral illusion in his mind that he got something and, in fact, he has not understood anything? Because you have seen it and we see that, very often in the sessions also, that you explain something, people say that they get it. But do they really get it?

I mean personally, I think that unless the response has really touched you to the core or it has transformed you on some level internally, you are not really understood anything. It is just a cerebral thing. So, can we say that the elimination or disappearance of suffering, in some way, is the understanding?

Acharya Prashant (AP): There is nothing called ‘understanding’ actually. There is just the process of understanding.

Q: It is not a destination.

AP: It is not a destination, and you continue to understand as you see that it is impossible to understand. Understand a thing.

You see, anything that you look at is nothing in isolation, it is linked to 40 other things. So, the first step in understanding is, you want to understand something in particular, and you discover that the thing is nothing in particular. You want to understand, why you are annoyed with your son, let’s say. The first step is to discover that the annoyance is not really a thing, particularly between you and your son, the scope is wider. So, you have discovered that you cannot understand that thing.

Because the problem is just not the way you narrated it. You said, ‘I do not understand and that’s the problem.’ What do I don’t understand? That there is a conflict between me and my son and I do not understand the core of it, the reality of it. You go close to it and you figure out that the problem is just not what you thought it to be, and how you wrote it down. Your version of the problem is itself mythical. So now, you discover that it’s not between you and the boy, it’s between you and many other people. The initial problem does not exist, so, how can there be understanding there? And then you widen the scope and discover that even this cannot be resolved, because the problem statement itself is false. Finally, you discover that the problem is, indeed, nothing to do with anything or anybody in the world. The problem is internal. This is the process of understanding.

When you go close to where the problem really lies, you find that in going close to that spot, that spot is feeling less and less problemed. But still, as long as that spot exists, the problem will remain, and therefore, the need to understand will remain. As long as you remain, the need to understand will remain, because you are that point within yourself which is the problem. You are the problem.

Since you are the problem, therefore, perfect understanding is never going to happen. However, you can be on a continuous journey. That’s called self-knowledge—coming close to oneself, realizing the basis of one’s instincts, one’s reactions, one’s anger, one’s urges, one’s trusts, distrusts, everything.

You also talked about suffering. Suffering is another thing that’s going to continue. You can, at most, alleviate in the sense of sublimation, in the sense of bringing it to a higher point. You’re suffering, and suffering will remain. It’s just the dimension of suffering, the level of suffering, that you can alter. All suffer, some suffer for petty reasons, others suffer for sublime reasons. So, you decide that it’s better to suffer for sublime reasons. That is the process of understanding.

So, you get involved in bigger problems. By ‘bigger’, I mean wider. The circle of what you see as the problem area keeps widening. And once it has widened enough you realize that there is no point in widening the circle so much, the problem is actually at the centre itself. Irrespective of how big the circle becomes it’s never going to come to an end. All this is the process of understanding.

You become more and more disinterested in petty battles because that’s not where the problem lies. You realize there is nothing to understand there. Understanding, therefore, cannot happen there because there is nothing to understand there.

You were loud at someone, and that person reacted in anger. Now, what do you want to understand? There’s nothing to understand here. In this particular situation, if you are defining it so narrowly, there is nothing here to understand, therefore, you widen the circle of your problem. Your problem definition becomes bigger.

But if you keep asking, “Oh! Why do I speak angrily? Why does that person react angrily?”, you will get no answers, or you will get very narrow answers, which might console you for a while but won’t help at all.

Q: So, one question there I have is, you said, when you come closer, you find out that there is nothing to understand.

AP: You find out that the problem is just not the way you want to define it, therefore, there can be no solution. The problem is far bigger.

Q: So, the need to understand disappears?

AP: No, the need to understand deepens. You know you are angry, let’s say, at your wife. The anger has a lot to do with your job. Now, how do I solve the relationship between the husband and the wife, as long as the job remains the same?

So, the problem definition itself is too narrow, you have to widen the scope. And when you go and include the job in the problem statement, then you discover that you have taken up the job because of constraints that pertain to your obligations, your financial obligations towards your, let’s say, parents. Now, as long as your relationship with your parents remains the way it is, the job will stay the way it is. And if the job remains the way it is, your relationship with your wife will remain the way it is.

I’m oversimplifying it. You know, it’s easy to pick holes in this narrative, but I hope it’s acting as a pointer. So, everything is related to everything else, and behind minor squabbles are bigger issues. So, what’s the point in trying to solve that local minor thing? That local instance is indicative of a wider problem. You have to keep discovering the wider problem. And then a point comes when you see that the problem encompasses practically everything in your life, and if the problem includes everything in your life, then how do you solve everything? Then the only option you are left with is—address the centre. Do not try to solve everything.

Just solve that which lies at the centre of everything, and all the problems will be solved. But before all the problems are solved, you have to first of all, come to a point where you can see that everything is a problem. As long as you see a few things in isolation as problematic and you see other things as alright and normal, there is no possibility of solution. You are saying, ‘Certain things are all right in my life, other things are problematic.’ No.

If there is a problem, everything is a problem. You have to, therefore, keep dismissing your problem statements as too narrow and therefore, useless. Widen the scope. And that is, I said, the process of understanding.

Q: You also said that, ‘To the core of it, I am myself the problem. As long as I remain, the problem remains.’ Or maybe, the need to understand will also remain.

AP: Yes, yes.

Q: But actually that is something which I’m afraid to give up. Because that’s the only thing which keeps me going.

AP: No, then you may just choose your words more carefully. You do not need to say that you must give yourself up. Just say, ‘I am on a process of betterment.’ The ego lives in words, fool it with words. Don’t say, ‘I am in a process of self-dissolution or whatever or surrender.’ These are words that the ego doesn’t typically like. So, say, ‘Betterment. I am trying to be better.’

Q: Self-evolution.

AP: Whatever. Anything, anything that goes or passes. The lady within must give her consent before you can proceed. Alright.

Q: Thank you.

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