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What is understanding? || Acharya Prashant, with youth (2013)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
6 min
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Acharya Prashant (AP): The question asked is, ‘What is understanding?’

What is right there with us, completely available, is difficult to be described in positive terms. Right? We will begin with what understanding is not.

Right now, as I look at you, you are sitting still, absolutely still. There is peace on your face and you are looking attentive. Are you thinking something at this moment?

Questioner (Q): No, Sir. It is difficult.

AP: Difficult, right? Could you really be listening to me, had you been thinking about something else? Would it have been possible for you to listen to me?

Q: No.

AP: Would it have been possible? Understanding is available. What is understanding? This is understanding. What is going on right now, is understanding. What understanding is not?

You asked me a question, ‘What is understanding?’ If you are already carrying a notion of what the word ‘understanding’ is all about, then will you be able to listen to my answer as I speak? Let us say you ask me, ‘What is ‘A’?’, but deep within, you are already carrying a belief that ‘A’ is this. Now, if you are already holding on to that belief, will you be really able to understand what I say? My words will fall upon your ears but they will not mean anything. It is because your mind is already holding on to an idea, a belief.

The first thing is that belief is not understanding. We begin with finding out what understanding is not. Understanding is not believing. If your mind is believing then it would be extremely difficult for it to understand. You may as well say that belief is the enemy of understanding.

Belief is the enemy of understanding.

Understanding is not a process of the mind. It would require some going into it. Understanding is not a process of the mind because the process of the mind is thought. All that the mind can do is think. The mind lives in thoughts. If you are not thinking, there actually is no mind. If you are not thinking, where is the mind? Understanding is not a thought. Understanding hence is not a result of analysis.

In your scientific processes, how do you say that you understand? You get a problem in Mathematics and you start solving it. Ultimately you get what you call as the solution of the problem. So, there is a situation, what you call as the problem, then there is the analysis and then there is the solution. Understanding is not this. Understanding is not a product of the analysis.

Understanding is merely being present. You do not have to analyze. You don’t have to ‘do’ anything. It is because all doing is contained in the mind. Let us have a small demonstration here, now. Can anybody here claim that he has been listening even for fifteen minutes, twenty minutes? Nobody.

(Addressing one of the listeners) Anuj have you listened, at least for some time?

Q2: Yes, Sir.

AP: When you were listening, were you doing something? You were listening. When you were listening, were you doing something?

Q2: I was just listening.

AP: Just listening. Now, this ‘just listening is not a process. Listening is not analysis. Listening implies that the mind is not doing anything, just listening. What does ‘just listening’ mean? It means not doing anything at all. Just sitting and listening. You don’t require a process; you don’t require a mental activity. You are just there, what I call as ‘being present’. Understanding is just happening.

So, the first thing is that understanding is not a belief. Second, understanding is not an activity of the mind. Kindly do not think that you understand something by applying some mental process on it. What are these mental processes?

Mind hates, divides, compares, analyzes, that is what the mind does. Understanding does not come from that. Understanding is just like that. Just listening. Just being present to life. If you are there completely, you will understand.

To the mind that has been dealing with processes and processes, methods, short-cuts, and formulae, all throughout the education system, to that mind all this will appear a little difficult to take.

So, understanding does not involve any doing. I do not have to do anything. No, in fact, you have to stop all your doing. You don’t have to do anything to understand. You just have to be at peace, just still. Those who are still right now are really understanding. Those who are doing something right now, they are not understanding.

First, you cannot understand if you say that you already know. So, we say that understanding is not believing. We say that belief is the enemy of understanding because you think that you already know. That is what belief is, ‘I already know’. If you think that you already know then you cannot understand.

Second, it is not a mental application. It is not like, ‘I will go there, compare it, watch it, break it, and apply logic and argument to it’. No, this does not lead to understanding. Are you getting it?

Understanding is just being present to anything. You are looking at a tree and you understand the tree. You do not compare the tree to something else, not to a rocket launcher, not to an animal, not a building. You just look at the tree. You want to know a human being, you do not go to the human being and start analyzing. You come in complete contact with him, a particular intimacy.

Do you understand intimacy? It means coming in close contact with something. That is what understanding is. That cannot happen if you are thinking and processing all the time. The word that is very close to ‘understanding’ is attention. This intimacy, this being in complete contact without the mind being active, this is called attention.

Attention is the environment in which understanding happens.

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