What is consciousness: physical or non-physical?

Acharya Prashant
3 min readJun 24, 2020

Following is an excerpt from a samvaad (dialogue) session with Acharya Prashant.

Questioner: Sir, whenever you have been asked what is consciousness, you have always said, all that is mind or things related to the mind is consciousness. What constitutes consciousness, how does it work?

Acharya Prashant: How this material body becomes conscious is a great mystery. There is no answer to that. Similarly, one cannot answer how the material body becomes unconscious or how the ‘praana’ leaves the body. Ramanna Maharshi used to explain this by saying that there exists a ‘jad-chetan granthi’ somewhere in the body, where the ‘jad’, which is the material body meets pure consciousness. And he would also say that the ‘granthi’ or the knot was the cause of all human suffering, and so you have to cut or severe that knot. But that was a symbolic way of just pointing towards something about which nothing concrete can be said. This, however, is not a great disadvantage because nothing concrete needs to be said.

We do not really need to know how we came to be conscious or how this material body starts showing conscious characteristics. That is not very topical. What we need to know is, how does this consciousness acquire suffering, and how can it be liberated from suffering. That is the moot question.

Obviously, consciousness does have a material component to it. You could say that the material component resides in the brain, or you could say (that it resides) somewhere else in the body. Science would say brain. If something happens to your brain it affects your consciousness, that is obvious. So, at one end, consciousness is material or it at least has a material base or a material pole, on the other hand, consciousness shows characteristics that are not at all material. In fact, consciousness seems to be suffering from material contact. That mystery is what is consciousness. That mystery is what is man; a kind of sandwich between freedom and material.

Our consciousness is part transcendental and part physical. It suffers from this in-between-ness. It is neither fully transcendental, nor fully physical. That is suffering.

The suffering can be overcome in two ways. First is die, that is become fully material, or (alternatively)…

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