What is consciousness: physical or nonphysical?

Acharya Prashant
3 min readApr 16, 2021

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

Questioner: Acharya Ji, whenever you’ve been asked what is consciousness, you’ve simply said that all that is mind-stuff is consciousness. A question that is not relevant to me personally. But still, I thought like material stuff is visible, it can be touched. So, that is one thing. The other thing is the Ātman; which is beyond knowledge and all. This consciousness thing is somewhere in between. So, I mean many people have asked this foolish question. Where does consciousness reside and everything? I’m not trying to ask that but, still like what is it? What constitutes it. How does it work?

Acharya Prashant: See, how does this material body come to be conscious; is a great mystery. There is no answer to that. You can not similarly answer the question; How does this material body come to become unconscious? Or, how does the Prāṇa leave the body? Ramana Maharishi used to explain this by saying that there is a ‘Jada-Chetan Granthi’ somewhere in the body, where the ‘Jadata*’ which is the ‘material body’ meets ‘consciousness–pure consciousness.’ And he used to say that, “That *Granthi, that knot is the cause of all human suffering. So, you have to sever this knot, you have to cut that knot somewhere.”

But that was one symbolic way of just pointing towards something about which nothing concrete can be said. And that’s not a great disadvantage because nothing concrete need be said.

We do not really need to know, ‘how we came to be conscious, or how does this material body start 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’s the moot question. Obviously, consciousness does have a material component to it. You could say that the material component of consciousness resides in the brain. Or, you could say somewhere else in the body. Science would say ‘brain’.

If something happens to your brain, that affects your consciousness. That is obvious. So, at one end, consciousness is material or at least has a material base or at least has a material pole. On the other hand, consciousness shows characteristics that are not at all material…