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Mistake of the Intellect: ‘Pragyapradh’

Happiness is an inside job.

If I tap into the self regularly through my yoga practice, including meditation, awareness comes, and with awareness, I have a choice to decide whether I am going to sort out any unfinished business in my life. The deepest part of me lets me know what has to be clarified or cleared first. That deeper awareness informs my intellect. Whether my intellect acts in accordance with that deeper knowing is a whole other story (because I am in this human form)! Thank goodness that we are all in this mess together or I would feel rather silly! “Pragyapradh” is a Vedic Sanskrit term often translated as “mistake of the intellect”. The term is comprised of two words; i.e., “Pragnya” meaning ‘intellect’ and “apradh” meaning ‘crime.’

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi said, “pragya aparadh or ‘mistake of the intellect’ is when the intellect, drawn toward and influenced by material consciousness, loses connection with the wholeness of consciousness. This is when we stop being centered within ourselves.” Maharishi was a great advocate of living what he called “200% of life: 100% inner and 100% outer!” So, he was not saying that having a material life and striving for accomplishments was bad; he was warning us against overdoing ‘out there’ and forgetting who we are (living life without conscious awareness that we are part of a greater whole). Essentially the term, ‘pragyaparadh,’ recognises that our intellects can get us into all sorts of trouble! And that, although the deeper part of ourselves knows that we will never find lasting satisfaction ‘out there,’ through accomplishments, drugs, sex, food, etc, it is difficult for some of us to continue to look within and we continue to do, do, do, without any space for awareness. So, we become imbalanced and prey for disease.

The term also recognises that if only we could stay in sync with our deeper knowing, we could feel so much more peace and contentment within ourselves without so much effort! And isn’t finding that inner peace and contentment what all this striving is all about anyway? When I have this job — this level of income — this degree — then I will have space to calm down and lead a saner life— sound familiar? A saner life is available right now. So why do we all do it?

It is easier to explain this concept using the more pernicious examples of ‘grabbing for satisfaction’ out there; e.g., mind-altering substances. Drugs and alcohol are widely used and abused, when everyone knows their negative side effects will, in some cases, lead to disease and even death! Yet, our intellect leads us to bargain and believe that we can use alcohol and drugs in moderation and get away with it. And some of us can. Not all of us can.

According to the Vedic wisdom, there are three different reasons why we do not follow our deeper knowing: (1) ignorance; (2) a sort of rebelliousness in us that does things that we know that are bad for us; and (3) forgetfulness. In rare cases, diseases occur due to ignorance; for example, a person not knowing the adverse effects of alcohol abuse on the body becomes reliant on drinking at a time of hardship. For the most part though, in spite of the awareness, when we want the relief, we reach for something, sometimes reveling in it being ‘naughty.’ Perhaps we might feel it quells our anxiety and makes us better able to interact with our fellows, etc. Most people who smoke know that smoking is bad for our health, yet the addiction has taken hold. Once addicted, many of us are not able to leave drugs alone with our willpower. Something deeper must be tapped. Finally, even if we do become deeply aware of the bad effects of a substance or a behaviour, we are still apt to pick it up again if we forget that we resolved to abstain from the substance in the first place. This is very common with lapsed members of 12-step fellowships. Someone offers a glass of champagne and, after not having had a drink in over 15 years, there’s a forgetfulness about how troublesome alcohol was so many years back and the addiction can take hold again.

In all the above examples, the body is controlled by the intellect and the ego and not by our deeper knowing or our ‘soul.’ When we ignore our deeper knowing, we stop taking decisions from the level of consciousness and disobey the laws of nature. Our body-mind knows just what we need to be healthy. We just need to learn to listen. Regular meditation makes us more sensitive to what our body wants and needs. Without an established daily practice, it can be difficult to be patient enough to keep tapping into our deeper knowing and ensuring that how we behave is in synch with the flow of nature. Neuroscience has revealed that we need to keep repeating habits for them to take hold and rewire the brain, although different studies say that it can be anywhere between three weeks to two months to longer! What I do know from watching a community of meditators around me is that it changes the whole game!

Dr Deepak Chopra, in Perfect Health, even goes so far as to say that “Aging is ‘a mistake of the intellect.’ This mistake consists of identifying oneself solely with the physical body.” The Vedic rishis (and many other religions) believed that the body is a vehicle for the soul and that the soul continues after the body dies. So, why are we not listening to the soul when we know how?

Dr Ram Kant Mishra writes that “The Ayurvedic texts define the source of all disease and suffering as pragyaparadh. This occurs when individuals (or even single cells) “forget” their connection with the wholeness of life and believe themselves to be isolated entities.” I am prone to spending a lot of time on my own, working a lot, working from home, etc, and can forget how important it is for me to connect to nature, including via my fellow human beings. I must celebrate living in this form; I must take good care of it, yet not over-identify with it. The dying always teach us how much we need each other when they talk about wishing they connected and loved more and worked and strived less. And statistics show that people who are lonely die much earlier — it actually affects life expectancy. I will heed this wisdom and continue to walk in the woods; connect with friends in person; dance and play! And do what I can not to slip into too much striving to achieve! I find contemplating this ancient wisdom absolutely fascinating. Pragyaparadh warns us that we must tread carefully and with awareness upon this earthly plane.

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