What is the relationship between unconsciousness and awareness? || Acharya Prashant (2014)

“I have no body. I have no distinctive traits. Neither do I have a cause. I have no fourth state. One who is rooted in oneself is called a jivanmukta.”

~ Ashtavakra Gita

Question: What is the relationship between unconscious and awareness? Does unconscious dissolve in awareness?

Speaker: Only thought gives meaning to thought, right? Even when you are thinking, you require somebody to give meaning to that thinking. Have you not wondered after waking up from a dream, what was the dream all about?

Listener 1: Yes.

Speaker: Yes. Now, what is happening? What was the dream? A thought. And now what is thought trying to do?

Listener 1: It’s trying to analyse that.

Speaker: It’s trying to analyse that. Are you getting it?

Many a times it happens that you just can’t make sense of the dream. Absolutely absurd – Buildings are flying, crows are swimming. Now, what the hell?

Who is this who is trying to give sense to the thought, to the dream?

Listener 1: The mind.

Speaker: That which is the reservoir of memory. In your memory, you have never seen a case where buildings are flying. So, this thought which is trying to interpret that will say it’s absurd, right? So, there can be two kinds of thoughts, one which appear as having meaning, which appear as proper to thought itself. Appear to whom? To thought itself. And the second, which simply do not come in the domain of this thought because memory has no way of validating them. The second is more or less the subconscious. The subconscious constantly keeps on doing things, it is a store of this and that – experiences, that, this, right? But because it is coming from a place little far away in time, memory may not be able to recall from where is the thought coming? It may not be able to give a meaningful interpretation to that thought, or sometimes, it may not be able to even realize that it is a thought. Are you getting it? Because thought interprets thought. If the object of interpretation, T1 is interpreting T2, if T2 is actually very obtuse then T1 might fail to make any sense of it. That is what happens when the subconscious is active.

You may totally fail to register that you are thinking anything because even to say that I am thinking something, you need to tell – what are you thinking? If the thought is really absurd, you can’t even claim that you are thinking. So, it’s a strange situation where thinking, where mental activity might be going on without you being able to claim that mental activity is going on. It’s like there are waves in this room, but the waves are all forty thousand hertz and above. So there are waves, but we cannot claim that there are waves because they are outside the limits of our interpretation.

(Acknowledging the listener) That’s what I am saying.

So, the subconscious is always active. When somebody says, ‘What is the relation in between unconscious and awareness, and does unconscious dissolves in awareness?’

There is no fundamental difference in between unconscious and conscious.

When you come to the point of understanding, all waves disappear.

Less than twenty thousand, more than twenty thousand, whatever. Because even if you can’t make sense of what thought is saying, what T2 is saying. Even if you can’t give a meaningful color to it, yet the noise of what it is saying will be there and it will not let you feel peaceful.

See, two kinds of questions can come to me. One is, you are saying something , alright I am able to interpret it. You are talking my language. The words that you are using are present in my memory, so I can say something. The other is, from there somebody is just buzzing like a bee. So I can’t know what is being said, but even if I can’t know what is being said, that buzzing sound, that constant humming, that constant presence of something will be there and it will way upon the mind, right? You can’t feel at ease. So, when the point of understanding comes then both the sounds disappear. The civilized sound in which the question is being asked in a particular language, in a particular framework, that disappears, as also that continuous background noise, even that too goes. If that background noise is present then not much has anyway happened.

Listener 1: You said far away in time, something from far away in time, it can’t be recognized by mind. What is this far away in time?

Speaker: Out of memory. That’s what I meant by ‘far away in time’. Memory can’t make sense of it. Active memory does not recognize it. Memory has only so much space, and it’s coming from a place where which memory can’t make sense of. It might be only two days back, but if you have forgotten it, it goes to the unconscious.

Listener 1: So the senses are registering everything, whatever is available to the memory is a part of conscious; whatever is unavailable to the memory is a part of subconscious. And hence, the subconscious is much a larger part.

Speaker: Much larger. Yes.

Listener 1: The person who is very-very attentive, to him, the subconscious would not exist at all because he is conscious for everything.

Speaker: Yes. What would happen is that it will keep getting dissolved. When you are quite alert, then you can always sense the background noise. You may not be able to interpret it, but you know that it is present. Just as the person who is alert about his body. He may not be able to know why a particular part is aching, but he knows that something is wrong -this shoulder is feeling a little..; whereas somebody who is not alert about the body, he might be dragging a sore shoulder for long, without even registering that the shoulder is sore. That’s that kind of thing.

See, there is nothing great or special hidden in the subconscious. It’s the normal humdrum thing. What is conscious today, if not used for long, will become subconscious tomorrow. What is present as a problem today in the mind, and you are thinking about it, if not resolved, then it will be replaced by a new problem and the old problem , the old complex, will receive it into the background. But of course, it has not gone away. It has just gone to the background and it will become the subconscious. That’s, as it that.

Listener 1: The subconscious and the conscious mind subside.

Speaker: Both, both. If you have only been able to settle down the conscious mind then you are probably just making arguments, because the conscious mind can be appeased even with arguments. Some kind of intellectual feed. Even that may suffice, but the subconscious will not be happy with mere arguments. It wants real dissolution. Have you not experienced this? You ask a question, let’s say you ask for something here, and something is being said, and it appears alright. You do not find words to say that you know it has not quite given me what I wanted. It appears alright, so you shut down. You can’t say anything further, but something is still going on within. That is not yet alright. That is not yet peaced. That is saying, no, no, no, this is not sufficient, something more. The conscious mind, that has been silenced, but yet not complete peace has come. That has not yet come.

Listener 1: Sometimes we are not able to identify that why we are, means something is worrying us but we are not able to identify the reason that what is there that is worrying us, like something that we witness throughout the day but it becomes difficult to understand why are we upset. What has happened? Just something hits us which is  not there at the conscious level, but there at the subconscious level.

Speaker: If you could know that what is bothering you then you would surely want to provide a cheap remedy to it. If you could know that the thing that is bothering you is that if you have paid the bill or not then you can check the last date of the bill or you can pay the bill. That which you are unable to recognize, the problem, is considered to be more important by you because there are many problems, not one. And, if you could identify the problem, then you would want to provide a cheap remedy to it and your mind will think that it has resolved the problem.

Listener 2: Sir, you said it once about the conscious and unconscious that if you hear something, on the surface you understand, but there is something that is bugging you . If that keeps happening constantly, it is very difficult to understand that it is your ego that is resisting it or actually there is something else that is bugging you. If just keeps happening and happening, which actually happens with me, that you say something, it’s clear, it’s very clear, but it’s not sinking in. It’s there and you are able to understand but it has just stuck over there, not sinking in, and I find no argument to say that it’s false.

Speaker: No. So, you can just do one thing there. If you are not getting any valid point then you should not say to yourself that your curiosity is satisfied.

Listener 2: Yes. It doesn’t happen.

Speaker: Then you should not even say that. You should not stop. The problem would lie when something is asked, and a answer came, and you told yourself that your curiosity is satisfied. You should be alert that the thing is not yet done because it has not become still. There is still some constant buzzing in the background. That constant buzzing will do the rest for itself.

Listener 3: Sir, at times it happens that, you know, may be the answer – the other person is giving, or the environment is giving us, maybe it is not as expected or our mind is not so receptive to it. That’s why this, you know this buzzing is there and we want an answer which would actually satisfies our mind.

Speaker: It’s not from that. Sometimes, in certain situations, the subconscious mind  is more sensible than the conscious mind. Conscious mind can resist, but subconscious mind quickly understands that the answer is correct even if it is not liking it. So it has nothing to do with satisfaction. The resistance that you are talking about is very surficial. That conscious mind itself resists. It has nothing to do with the subconscious mind. If you say something to someone, and he resists right away, then he surely knows what he is resisting.

Talking about subconscious is important only so that we might not become disillusioned that we understand our mind. We should be careful about the subconscious mind because it can disillusion us in knowing that we understand what we think, and ‘I know my mind’. With subconscious, a certain humility remains that you do not understand your mind. It makes you realize that if you know one thing of the mind, then there are ten other things that you are not aware of. The mind tells you one thing in words and hide ten other things through constant buzzing. That is why it is necessary to understand the subconscious mind, otherwise, there is nothing much special about the subconscious mind. It experiences in the same way as the conscious mind. It’s just that that conscious mind is close to the memory and the subconscious mind is a bit far from the memory, otherwise, there is no special difference in between the two.


~ Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session on Ashtavakra Gita held at Advait BodhSthal, Noida.

Watch the session at: Prashant Tripathi on Ashtavakra: What is the relationship between unconsciousness and awareness?

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2 comments

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