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Why should I understand the mind? || Acharya Prashant, with youth (2013)

Author Acharya Prashant

Acharya Prashant

6 min
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Questioner (Q): What is the need to differentiate between the self and the mind?

Acharya Prashant (AP): I will make it a little easier for you. I will rephrase this question into: What is the need at all to understand the real self? Because only when you go into this process does this distinction come: that the mind may not be the real self and such things.

Ultimately his question is: Why must I know myself? What is the need to go within? What is the need for self-enquiry? I mean, life is going on nicely, pleasantly; there has been no hiccups. I have my set routine, I have my normal spectrum of pleasures and pains, and I am cruising along. What is the need to find all this out? This thing called self, the mechanics of the mind, why must I understand them at all? In other words, why must a course like this be floated at all? Because that is the very objective of this course.

So, it is a beautiful question that you have asked, and we start with this.

Why must I understand this? Because only in the process of understanding this do we come across this distinction: that there is a mind and that mind may not be me.

How many of us, young, free men and women, are interested in leading a life of slavery? Hardly anybody, right? Who is a slave? Whom do we call a slave? A slave is someone who has no free will of his own; his actions happen due to the influence of others. That is a slave, right? Simple.

Now, let us understand what is the way in which we function, what is the way in which our mind functions.

This brain, the human brain that we have, is a product of millions of years of evolution. It is nothing but this journey that it has traveled, undertaken. It is nothing but a collection of all the experiences that have happened to it in the course of this journey. It knows nothing but all that it gathered during the journey, during the past. It is, in that sense, nothing but a storehouse, a database of experiences, and also a program that has been taught to deal with that database.

It is very very mechanical in nature. You don’t have to ask it to do certain things; it keeps doing those things. It does not ask for your sanction or your free will; it operates on its own. Basic functions of the body, our basic reactions, and not only that, the basic way in which we perceive the world; even that is pre-programmed. We don’t have a say in that.

You perceive space to be a three-dimensional thing. That is not because space is three dimensional; that is because your brain is configured to perceive a three-dimensional reality.

You live your life in time. That is not because there is an independent, objective truth called time but because your brain is configured to read time. Like a compiler of a computer system it is configured to read a particular language.

That is how the body operates, and the brain is a part of the body. That is how the brain makes sense of the world. And the brain has been pre-programmed; the body too has been pre-programmed. In technical parlance, that is called physical conditioning

Now, in physical conditioning, surely as intelligent students you would see, there is no free will involved; the brain already knows what to do.

There is another conditioning called social conditioning. Physical conditioning is the hardware that you are carrying; social conditioning is the additional and multiple layers of software that have been put upon it. Social conditioning includes all your beliefs that you have obtained since your birth: culture, tradition, language, and a lot of other things. The entire accumulation of thoughts, that is social conditioning.

Wherever there is conditioning, there is no free will, and the absence of free will is nothing but slavery.

A very unfortunate event can take place with every human being—and does take place with most of us—which is that we do not realize how deeply conditioned we are; we start identifying with our conditioning.

Freedom from slavery is not at all difficult provided you intelligently look at the processes of the mind and realize that “I am not acting out of free will or my own intelligence, I have just been told and programmed to act in this way.” And the moment you realize this, in that moment you are free of it.

We don’t realize it. To not realize it is to waste life altogether because there is no great fun in living a slave’s life.

This mind is two things: the conditioned part—which you could give a general name as brain, the brain which carries all our conditionings—and the intelligence. The brain is thoroughly conditioned, but you are not merely the brain; there is something more to you.

When you discover that, the quality of your life entirely changes. Your day-to-day living, the kind of decisions you are making, that totally changes; there is a brilliance about it, there is an energy about it. You are not stupid anymore, then: you are not merely a machine, then.

Hence, it is important to understand how this machine functions, and how we are a little more than that machine. That ‘being little more’ is what makes life valuable.

Otherwise, you go on leading a conditioned life. The script has been written by external forces for you—parents, society, education—and you go on believing that “I am making those decisions” without even having the sense to understand that none of that is yours really. Then you are merely a puppet—merely a puppet who is just enacting a pre-scripted role, whose life is entirely predictable. The beaten path, that is what he is taking.

There is no fun in that. There is no energy, no vitality in that. There is no youthfulness in that.

We deserve a little better than that. We deserve more than that. Hence, it is important to understand the difference.

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