September 20, 2020
True apperception happens when one may or may not understand what is said or read (let’s say the words of a spiritual master or a teaching), yet it goes straight to the heart; not via the intellect. It hits home, so to speak. There is no ’time’ involved for the thinking mind to interpret the words. So what is read or said may or may not be understood in the duration of time, yet it makes total sense. In these rare moments, the inadequacy and limitations of the glorified thinking mind are laid bare, and it is left by the roadside on the journey to understanding our true nature.
Advaita sage Ramesh Balsekar says, “True understanding can only be that understanding in which there is no intellectual comprehension. As a concept, one may talk of the ‘intellectual understanding’ going deeper into a total understanding, but the fact remains that there truly cannot be an ‘intellectual understanding’ as such; that term would only indicate that the deeper meaning of what is said in the words, the true content of what is said, is not apperceived, but only the apparent superficial ‘meaning’ of the words that are used. In the true apperception, the interpretation of the words into an intellectual understanding is wholly transcended.”
It would help to keep this in mind, for those on the path of Jnana Yoga (the yoga of knowledge). For one of the pits one can fall into, again and again, is trying to understand each and every sentence and analysing away the living presence of that which the words of the master point to. The understanding then stays at the intellectual level, although the ego is convinced it has a very deep understanding of matters at hand. What happens is that the sheaths of the mind and intellect get hardened and encrusted with an additional layer, like the arteries in the heart getting calcified and blocked, not allowing the light of true understanding to shine through.
What is the possible result of an understanding staying only at the intellectual level? One can think one has ‘got it’, yet there is not much of a difference in one’s quotient of psychological suffering in daily living. One can even think and make believe that one is not suffering and one is at peace, yet one’s life might well be an expression of suffering, even though the suffering may be covert.
One of the classic examples of such a pitfall on the path is the statement, ‘There is nobody here,’ that is now being said quite often to indicate an ‘awakening’. Yes, there might very well have been an ‘aha’ moment, a moment of awakening, after being exposed to the words of a master/teaching or receiving some insight in another way, where there is the recognition of pure awareness being one’s inherent nature, but that does not translate into living the teaching. The thinking mind can make one think one is living the teaching, while living the teaching truly means being lived by the teaching.
Why this emphasis on guaging the impact of a teaching by a decrease in the level of suffering? Because, of what value is a teaching unless its impact can be measured in daily living? And how else can it be measured other than the peace-equanimity-tranquility it brings about in our daily lives? After all, Lord Buddha said, ‘Enlightenment is the end of suffering.’ One can think one is not suffering, but one will know whether or not one is suffering.
What compounds matters is the possibility that while we may give ourselves the luxury of thinking that we are not suffering, we cast untold suffering on others. When Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi was asked, ‘How do we treat others?’ he replied, ‘There are no others.’ If these words were truly apperceived and not just understood through the mind and intellect, one would know that to cast untold suffering on others is to cast untold suffering on oneself.
When Balsekar was asked about the difference between awakening and deliverance, he replied, ‘Awakening is like getting the driving licence, while deliverance is when, after a couple of years, you realise that you just drove through heavy traffic without the least amount of mental stress.’ Awakening doesn’t guaranty peace and equanimity in daily living (in other words, the end of psychological suffering), though it certainly opens the doorway to it.
At the same time, an intellectual understanding cannot be discounted, as the understanding can sink deeper and deeper till it finally settles in the heart. In other words, it can culminate in true apperception of the teaching. Yet, the risk is that a structure is built to house the intellectual understanding and the focus now shifts to the structure itself rather than the space inside and outside it, which the teaching is pointing to.
A natural evolution of the journey of an intellectual understanding is to arrive sooner or later at the conclusion that one cannot know the truth, through the process of acquiring knowledge. One can only be the truth. This, of course, can only be apperceived.
True apperception ‘happens’ when an aspirant is totally absorbed – mentally, emotionally and intellectually, in what the master is saying. Yet, being totally absorbed mentally, emotionally and intellectually is not something one can ‘do’. It happens quite naturally as, after all, we carry our life’s experience with us. So when something strikes us and ‘hits home’, it is because we can relate at the core of our being to what we have heard. What helps is when the thinking mind, always questioning, doubting, or focusing on the surface-meaning of the words, is quiet. The chances of true apperception happening are more in an unconditioned, trusting mind.
No wonder Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj placed such an emphasis on trust in the words of the master. He mentioned that while we are in prison, we should trust the words of those outside who are working for our release. One cannot try to be trusting, for that would mean our very foundation is one of mistrust. To be trusting is to be open to receive the words of a master or teaching, knowing they have our best interests at heart.
True apperception pierces through the sheaths of the mind and intellect, and buries itself deep… in the heart of being.
Note: This essay is based on a brief conversation I had with my spiritual teacher Ramesh Balsekar on the word ‘apperception’, which he used quite often in his early books. I found it difficult to understand what it meant, until I had that conversation. My mother Santosh Sachdeva lent further clarity and insights once she read the first draft of this essay, based on her understanding of the koshas (the five sheaths). And so, my endeavour has been to weave together these important concepts in as simple a manner as I possibly could, for the reader. I am grateful to both of them for shining light on my life’s journey.
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