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Knowing that brain is chemical, why do I still suffer? || Acharya Prashant, on 'The Fountainhead' (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
7 min
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These are the thoughts going through Dominique’s mind in the conversation with Alvah after returning to New York:

“Either course taken would be taken under compulsion.”

“She wondered whether they whipped convicts nowadays.”

“She had kept herself clean and free in a single passion—to touch nothing.”

“[…] she had liked the impotence of their hatred […].”

“She was not free any longer.”

~ Excerpts from ‘The Fountainhead’, by Ayn Rand

Questioner: The way Dominique is struggling when her tendencies are coming to the surface, and how even after choosing the toughest choice of all the ones available, she still feels defeated by Roark.

(Dominique and Roark are the main characters in Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’).

This reminds me of my life.

Acharya Ji, Pranaam! Even I envy and get angry with people who bring my suffering to the surface. And I try to take revenge on them. These questions trouble me.

Every tendency I have is just a chemical reaction, then how is my restlessness not a chemical reaction? If it is, then how do I get affected in a situation when I know that it is just a chemical reaction?

Acharya Prashant: The tendencies do not suffer, you do. You are not your tendencies. Had you been your tendencies, why would there have been any suffering?

So tendencies proceed as per pre-set patterns of chemical reactions – that’s what tendencies do. And when tendencies do that, tendencies are alright. You are not alright when you act per your tendencies.

When you say, “How do I know that my restlessness is also not a chemical reaction?” Your restlessness is because of the chemical reaction, your restlessness is because of your association with the chemical reaction.

You have to, first of all, know who is asking this question and is restless.

You are conscious mind, you are the thinking self, you are the incomplete ‘I’. That’s how you have conceptualized yourself to be. You are the incomplete ‘I’ chasing association with tendencies, in a hope that such an association would give you fullness. Of course, the hope keeps getting belied time and again. It’s another matter that we never learn.

Had your restlessness been a chemical reaction, then it could have been doused and mitigated or totally pacified using another chemical, or some other reaction. How do you neutralize a chemical? Using another chemical.

And there are so many who ask the same question and come up with a false answer, so they start thinking that their restlessness is also chemical. ‘Chemical’ means material. So what do they do about their restlessness? They start feeding it chemicals, and materials. You can either feed it a giant mansion, or you can feed it marijuana – both are chemicals. Are they not? Both are materials.

There is somebody who tries to assuage his restlessness through a mansion, and there is somebody who tries to placate his restlessness through marijuana. Are the two any different?

What do the two have in common? Both think that restlessness is chemical, and therefore has chemical solutions because any chemical would always have a chemical solution.


What would ever neutralize a chemical? Some other chemical. What else? A chemical or a chemical process. So we believe in this philosophy. We are bad philosophers.

We think our restlessness is material and is therefore for the sake of something material. Then we chase the material, often get it, and then stand disappointed once again.

Getting it?

He (the questioner) is saying, “If my restless is not a chemical reaction then why do I get affected by a situation knowing fully well that it is just a chemical reaction?” That which you call as ‘knowing’ is a chemical reaction, therefore it doesn’t help.

‘Real Knowing’ is not a chemical reaction, it is a cessation of chemistry. But what we call as ‘knowing’ or ‘realization’ is most definitely a chemical reaction.

Get the difference.

When I say, “Oh I understood, I know. Right, Right. I see”, what is happening? A lot of things are happening in the brain. It’s a brain-related phenomenon. Some part of the brain is getting activated, electric currents are flowing through new circuits. Some cells are beginning to receive more energy than others. New chemicals are getting formed.

All that happens when I say, “I have understood”, because when I say “I have understood”, what I mean is – “I have concluded, I am now able to put something in memory.” And all that is nothing but the activity related to hard-wiring.

The hardware is undergoing changes when you say, “I know, I have understood, I realize”, or, “I see.” It is a chemical reaction. Because it is a chemical reaction, therefore it is able to influence only the dimension of chemistry. You are not in that dimension, therefore it is not able to help you.

Chemical would affect chemical, and you are not chemical, unfortunately. So anything that is chemical is not going to help ‘you’. That which you call as your ‘personal knowledge’, ‘your realization’, is also chemical. Therefore it is not going to help you.

Hence, those who have really known have not talked of this ‘personal knowledge’, or ‘knowing’, or whatever.

They have talked of something else – something else that is inconceivable by the brain, something else that the brain has no interest in, something else that the brain cannot get and not even oppose, something else that comes when you start depending a little less on your brain, something else that comes when first of all you have exhausted the fullest possibility of the brain.

Spirituality is not an endeavor for the brainless. Spirituality is for the one who has gone till the last limit of the brain, explored it, tested it, and gained the fullest that could be from mental activity. And having gained the fullest that could be from mental activity, realized that there is only so much that the brain and the mind are capable of. And then you say, “Now, the Beyond. Now, the Beyond.”

No point therefore just tagging your inner tendencies, or reactions, or intuitions as ‘chemistry’, because when you are tagging your inner movements as ‘chemistry’ the tagging itself is the part of chemistry.

Therefore the tagging does not help you in any way.

You can have a machine that senses machines, that does not mean that the machine that senses machines is human or conscious. Right? Similarly, you can have knowledge that all our inner movements are just chemical, but that knowledge will not redeem you from the grip of chemistry. Even that knowledge is in the province of chemistry. Even the knowledge is chemical.

So you remain where you are, pretty much.

Realization is very-very subtle.

My favorite is –

If you know that you have realized, then you haven’t. If you know that you know, then you don’t. If you know that you are, then you aren’t.

Right now, here, if you know that you are listening, then you aren’t.

Only the ones who do not even know that they are listening, are actually listening.

The listening of others will be impeded by their knowledge of listening.

Getting it?

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