Questioner: When I read and understand any verse from the Upanishads, is that understanding emerging from a personal comprehension or is it universal? Is understanding personal or universal? Is there a way to touch upon real understanding? Also, emptiness, lust, anger, intoxication and darkness appear and disappear. They do not allow me to stop or meditate. It’s becoming one’s nature now to continuously seek something more; it appears like an explosion of silence. What is happening?
Acharya Prashant: I will have to disappoint you. Understanding is neither personal nor universal. Actually, understanding does not exist. If it does not exist, how can it be personal or universal or this or that? An issue is understood when the issue becomes meaningless for you and disappears. On the contrary, you commonly find that when people claim understanding of something, that something becomes even more meaningful and important to them.
That’s the hallmark of understanding: when something is understood, that something disappears from the mind. Gone! If it is still present in the mind, it is not yet understood. And now I will coin a new word: ‘understander’. It will be difficult for you to find it in the dictionary, but it’s a useful word, so stay with it.
A thing is understood when the thing disappears, and you become capable of understanding when you disappear.
The fact is that it is very improbable that one thing will disappear for you and the other thing will remain, because things are things. It is not likely that red will disappear for you and green will remain. It is not likely that squares will disappear for you and triangles will remain. When disappearance comes upon you, all geometry disappears. Hexagons, straight lines, circles, all disappear together, even spheres.
Real understanding is about going beyond a thing. And to really be the understander, you have to go beyond yourself. To understand a thing, you have to go beyond the thing. And if you have gone beyond the thing, why turn back and look at it? The thing becomes irrelevant, the thing becomes inconsequential, the thing becomes unimportant. Similarly, you become a man of understanding, you become the understander when you have gone beyond yourself. All things exist in you, so to go beyond yourself is to go beyond all things.
Usually what you call as understanding is merely intellectual comprehension, which is only translation, which is only renaming, which only means putting this glass on this table from here to there. The glass has moved, the surface has not; the glass has moved, the dimension has not. From beyond the glass, when I look at the glass, I will say the glass is still on the table, so nothing has moved. But if you are somebody on the table, then you will say the glass has moved.
And that is the reason why we get fooled and why the knower, the jñāni does not get fooled. You are this one (points at a napkin on the table) . This (points at a glass on the table) was a concept complex to you, alien to you, difficult for you to analyze. It stood here with respect to you. And then you say you have understood it, which is nothing but the movement of this concept from here to here.
But if you are the one standing here stubbornly, not changing your position, not changing your dimension, then you will say this thing has moved or changed. And with respect to you, actually it has moved and changed. But if you are there, beyond, and this thing keeps moving from here till there, and then there, and then there, you will say, “Nothing is changing. It’s all happening on the same dimension, on the same screen, on the same surface. Nothing is changing.” And that’s why, now you know, the knowers look at the world and say, “Nothing really happens here.”
But to the one who is in the world, a lot of things keep happening. It’s a continuous movement of a million things, stars buzzing past your ears. Everything is in rapid and terrifying movement, terrifying and tempting. You look at this thing, and then something happens there, and then you look at that thing. And you never find enough time to look at anything fully. Before one thing ends, the other thing starts, so you can never really get into the depth of one thing. Before you can get into the depth of one thing, it is already gone and finished. Even if you intend to know it fully, you can’t. The thing itself does not give you the occasion, the allowance to go to its depths. This is not understanding.
There are so many, just so many, incredibly many, who keep on using the word ‘understanding’ very, very loosely. Before, you used to talk of it in one way; after, you talk of it in another way. That is not understanding. The thing still exists as a thing. And as long as a thing exists as a thing, it is not yet solved. A thing is solved only when it stops existing as the thing itself. In that sense, the word ‘solvent’ is so beautiful and so revealing. And related to ‘solving’ and ‘solvent’ is the word ‘dissolution’.
What is dissolution? Does dissolution mean a change of form? What does dissolution mean? Dissolution means the form is gone, the thing does not exist. It’s not merely that the thing has changed appearance; it’s not merely that it can now be described in an alternate way or an alternate set of words; the thing is just gone, it’s dissolved. Laya (dissolution)—such a beautiful word. Understanding is līnatā (retirement, seclusion), *laya*—gone, totally gone.
Look at your life and see what all is important and meaningful to you. If something is important to you, you haven’t understood it. If something is meaningful to you, you haven’t understood it. If something keeps circulating in your mind, you haven’t understood it.
I repeat, what is understood simply disappears from the mind. And as long as your mind is busy with something, that thing is not understood and your mind is not yet worthy of being called the—what’s that new word? Understander. Your mind is still not an understander. It’s a nice word, ‘understander’. Your mind is still not standing under the Truth. Your mind is still trying to rise up and above.
When you say ‘personal understanding’, you mean your personal conclusion about something. When you say ‘universal understanding’, you mean to say that your personal conclusion tallies with the conclusion of the society. For example, ‘that wall is yellow’ is the universal understanding according to you, because if I say that is yellow, he too says it is yellow, he too says it is yellow, he too says it is yellow, he too says it is yellow. Because all our opinions converge, so you start calling it as universal understanding. It is not a universal understanding; it is just a universal confluence of opinions.
And why are all the opinions converging? Because we all are biologically conditioned in the same sense. My biology is the same as his biology, is the same as his biology. Therefore, all of us look at this (picks up a glass) as a cylinder. What kind of object is this? Cylindrical. Why do we all call it cylindrical? Why doesn’t somebody call it spherical? Because we all are biologically conditioned to look at the world, the universe, the objects in a three-dimensional sense. So, we all call it cylindrical.
So, it is an expression of our common conditioning. It is not universal understanding, it is universal conditioning. But look at the world: whenever people converge on an opinion, you start calling that as the truth. You say, one billion people cannot be wrong! One billion people are talking of the same thing because they have the same conditioning.
So, that was your example of universal understanding. The wall is yellow, and everybody says the wall is yellow, so you say, “Fine, that means I have understood it.” Now you say the wall is pretty, and this you call as your personal understanding. And now he may or may not agree with you, she may or may not agree with you, so you say it is a personal understanding, because here disagreement is possible. This too is conditioning, but this is strictly personal conditioning. So, personal conditioning you are calling as personal understanding, and biological conditioning you are calling as universal understanding. This is such a gross error. Drop it.
What is understanding, then? Who wants to talk of the wall? The wall is a goddamn wall! Why does its yellowness or prettiness bother you so much? Yes, the eyes are saying it’s a wall, and the mind is saying it’s pretty. That’s the function of the eyes: to tell you that a wall lies ahead, and that’s the function of the opinionated mind: to tell you that the wall is pretty. The eyes are doing what they would, the mind is doing what it would. Why are you so occupied with the wall? Let the eyes and the mind do their own thing, you carry on. That’s understanding.
Resolution of conflict, dissolution of self—that’s understanding. Not merely suppression of conflict, not merely the conflicting parties coming to an agreement—resolution, resolved, gone. Gate, gate, pāragate : gone, gone, and gone beyond, svāhā . It’s a beautiful word, svāhā . After gate, gate, pāragate , you say svāhā . Svāhā means: Ha! Even the ashes don’t matter now. Not only is the stuff gone, even the ashes are immaterial now. Gate, gate, pāragate, svāhā * —that’s understanding. Have you ever witnessed a * yajña (fire ceremony)? There they keep on chanting svāhā , gone! That’s understanding. It used to be so material.
And it’s not a coincidence that the word ‘material’ has two meanings. Material means this (picks up the glass) , and material also means ‘important’. When you say this is material, what you mean to say is that it holds a shape and form. And when you say, “This is material to me,” it means, “It is important to me.”
So, the material has been turned into immaterial. There was material in my hand, it used to mean something to me, it was important, and now it has been made immaterial, svāhā . That’s understanding—it doesn’t hold importance anymore. Had it held any importance, why would I have consigned it to the flames? Gone.
Remember this. If too many people seem to converge on something, chances are that thing is arising from the common biological conditioning, the common biological fundamental. So, that kind of convergence is more dangerous than divergence.
Usually people diverge, don’t they? One says something, the other says something else, and the third one says, “No, no, no, neither this nor that.” Usually people diverge. That divergence is an expression of social conditioning. But if you find that there is some matter on which just too many people—probably the entire mankind—seems to agree, then you should become doubly, triply alert. If everybody is agreeing on something, that itself is a sureshot proof that everybody is mistaken. It’s arising from the biological roots, it’s arising from Prakṛti , it’s arising from the fundamental aham-vṛtti (‘I’-tendency), and that’s why people are all agreeing. Otherwise, it is very difficult for people to converge on something. We are very heterogenous.
There is a great difference between Truth and universality. Universality means you agree with him and he agrees with him, and it’s universally seen, without exception. We all tend to fall into this trap. Just because something appears all-pervasive, we start taking it as true.
Have you understood why the universe is so difficult to be seen as false? I’ll tell you why. You put this here (places the glass in front of himself) , you go to sleep; you wake up and you come back and you still find it here. So, what do you assume? A continuity in this. And if it is continuous without exception, then it qualifies to be called as Truth. Doesn’t that happen? If something is not getting interrupted ever, it must be true. If no exception to something is ever visible, it must be true. No, it is not. Please understand.
Appearances are universal but not fundamental. They are universal because our universe consists only of people like us, because our universe is just our own projection. I am biologically built in the same way as he is; in that sense, I am the same as him. So, if I ask him, “Do you see the sun?” it’s a foolish question. That’s like seeing the sun and then asking yourself, “Do you see the sun?” My eyes are the same as his eyes because at the fundamental level of biology, he is the same as me. So, if I use his evidence, his words as testimony, then I am fooling myself because he will always see what I am seeing. So, his words or opinions are inadmissible as testimony.
It’s like seeing that you have five fingers and then going to the mirror to verify whether you have five fingers. Using these eyes, if you see that you have five fingers, how many fingers will you see in the mirror? Five, because what is coming from the mirror is again being verified only by your own eyes, and it’s your own hand. So, there would be an absolute convergence. Nobody would ever say that “I have a doubt, I want to dissent”; there would be no dissent at all.
Mankind is, therefore, converging on the most obnoxious things, because the most obnoxious things come from our biological conditioning. It is such a scary thing to see. That which is the most dangerous will be the most commonly accepted. What is your deepest bondage? Your deepest bondage is that which is so deep in you that you cannot even reach it. Your deepest bondage is that which is not on your hands but is the basis of the hand itself. If it is on your hand, you can throw it away; you can just pluck it, throw it away. But if it is the very basis of the hand, then how will you throw it away?
Your biological conditioning is your fundamental bondage. You have control over your thoughts to an extent, but do you have control over your instincts and emotions? What are more difficult to control, thoughts or emotions? Now, thoughts are at the surface level, so you can somehow take care of them or control them or pluck them and keep them aside, but emotions are arising from deep, deep biology. That is the reason why thoughts differ, emotions don’t. In thoughts of people there are great variations, but in emotions there is great convergence. Anger, lust, greed, fear, jealousy, insecurity—full stop. Give me the name of any other emotion. But in thoughts there is so much diversity. Among emotions, there is not much diversity.
In fact, the deeper you go, you only find more and more convergence because the deeper you go, the more you are going towards your biological root, and there there is just a point, a point of convergence. That’s why the rich man feels lust and the poor man also feels lust. But in the thoughts of the rich man and in the thoughts of the poor man, there would be great difference; but in the emotion, very little difference. The woman of India feels attachment; the woman of Africa or the woman of Russia, too, feels attachment. But thought-wise, they would be greatly different; their beliefs would be greatly different. But look at their relationship with their babies, newborn babies, and there you would find a great similarity. Why? Because it is extremely biological; it is coming from the biological root, which is the greatest and the first bondage.
So, mankind would converge on that. Mankind would say, “Well, because we see it universally, so it must be true. And if it is true, then it needs to be respected and honored like the Truth.” And that is why we are respecting and honoring the greatest nonsenses. That which deserves to be immediately done away with is that which is receiving the greatest respect. And that’s such a tragedy.
Truth is not universal. Just because everybody seems to be saying the same thing or doing the same thing or experiencing the same thing, it does not qualify to be the Truth. Truth is neither personal nor universal. Truth is neither social nor biological. Truth is neither buddhi (intellect) nor Prakṛti (physical nature).
What is the Truth? Why bother about that? Aren’t you tired of just seeing what the Truth is not? That’s enough to know, is it not? It’s enough to see how deeply one is stuck in nonsense and falseness. Why bother to come to a definition of Truth? And how will you know whether your definition is right? You will again go to get it verified, ratified. If your definition is mental, you will find divergence. If your definition is instinctive, hormonal, biological, you will find some kind of convergence. Both are equally bad. So, just avoid defining the Truth.
The Upanishads put it beautifully: The mind cannot reach there, the voice cannot reach there, the eyes cannot reach there. The eyes try to reach there, but come back frustrated in their attempt. The ears try to reach there, but come back. The intellect tries to reach there, but fails. Why try at all? Why bother?
So, don’t bother to understand. Just listen. There is no need to understand. Understanding is not a need. Just listen.