Early in my spiritual quest, Swami Kriyananda was trying to help me balance a tendency to be overly rational. He patiently explained what I needed to do, and I said, “I understand, Sir.” He replied, kindly but firmly, “I don’t care whether you understand or not, I want you to change.”

Understanding is Overrated by Devi: What we really need is not mental understanding but wisdom. Yogananda blog

What we really need is not mental understanding but wisdom.

I’ve never forgotten that bit of advice, and it illustrates a mistake made by many. We don’t have to understand something in order to change it, anymore than we need to understand electricity to be able to change a light bulb. In fact, analyzing situations is often a defense mechanism the ego uses to protect itself from needed change.

The quest for knowledge has its place. It is helpful on the material plane and can get us a diploma or a job. But, as seekers, we are trying to transcend this plane, and for us the realm of reason is too restrictive. A hot-air balloon can lift us above the hills, but it cannot take us to the stars.

People who are too rational may actually hinder their spiritual growth. They can suffer from a “Zeno” complex. Zeno was a Greek philosopher who posed this paradox: For an arrow to hit a target, it must move from the bow to the target. But, in the minutest instant of time, the arrow is frozen and unmoving. If the arrow is motionless at every instant, and time is entirely composed of instants, then motion is impossible. I’ve known people who spend so much time analyzing things that, if not frozen in time, at best they plod slowly and timidly through life, becoming dry and forgetting to enjoy the here and now.

What we really need is not mental understanding but wisdom, which entails the marriage of head and heart. Normally wisdom grows gradually, as the mind learns discrimination, and as the heart becomes expanded by love and softened through pain. A shorter path to wisdom can be found by concentrating at the spiritual eye in deep, silent meditation, and by attuning oneself to a truly wise guru.

At times we need to toss thinking aside and let activity become our teacher. Swami Kriyananda encouraged me to paint because, as he put it, “It will help you develop your intuition.” He knew that unleashing the creative flow would lift me above the dry desert of an overactive intellect.

Just as a snake must shed its old skin, we grow by casting off old self-definitions. We already have what we seek: We have been one with God since the very first breath of creation. We don’t need to learn anything in order to know Him, but only to remember and realize what we truly are. Open your heart to Him, and He will come. When we still the tumult of thought and eddies of emotion, it is then we can hear His whispers. In this eternal quest, understanding is overrated.

In divine friendship,
Nayaswami Jyotish


  1. Dear Nayaswami Jyotish Ji,
    Thank you for the article :)
    Please advise if I got this wrong , “Swamiji tells us to be with the flow and don’t react or analyse the things happening ?”
    I was reading a saying from Master couple of days back ” The mind craves for formulations and definitions, always eager to squeeze reality in to a verbal shape ”
    Are these are on the same lines Ji.

  2. Holy Shmoli,
    Now THAT is Divinely Inspired WISDOM!
    Thank You Jyotish!! You are so right on!
    “We don’t have to understand something in order to change it” (or ourselves)
    “as seekers, we are trying to transcend this plane, and for us the realm of reason is too restrictive. A hot-air balloon can lift us above the hills, but it cannot take us to the stars.”
    So beautifully put, clear, poetic, creative!
    “People who are too rational may actually hinder their spiritual growth.”
    Slam dunk! or since the Superbowl is coming … TOUCHDOWN!
    Thank you and Bless you for this amazingly inspired, insightful, “kind and firm” guidance!
    With Deep Respect and Love, Josette

  3. Well, here I HEAR it again ~ profound Wisdom – I’ve said it to myself and to others over & over again …. ‘Move from the “understanding” of every thing ~ tune into the Guru ~ realize you are One with God ~ All you need is LOVE!’
    Thanks, Jyotish. We all need to continue to HEAR these things ! We ARE changing and getting closer to Self Realization! In Gratitude & Love,

  4. Jyotish,
    I assume the painting at the beginning of your column is yours. I admire it.

  5. Thanks, Jyotish. Right on, timely… and I love your wordplay with “understanding is overrated”. Thanks! :-)

  6. Thank you Jyotish, wonderful advice beautifully expressed.

  7. Thank you for your beautiful and inspiring letter Jyotish.

  8. I used to work doing technical support at Ananda Village, with Bob (now Nayaswami Bob) and others. Things would break, and we would fix them without always knowing the cause. Often the solution was just to reboot the computer.
    Bob even went so far as to say, “I don’t ask ‘why’ questions,” because in our case they were irrelevant to getting the job done. Of course sometimes a deep understanding can be helpful, but that’s the wisdom that you’re talking about, which transcends the rational mind.
    Bob once shared the story of how someone called to say that they couldn’t connect their computer to the network. Without thinking, Bob said, “You’re not on the domain” — this is one of a number of possible ways of not being connected — and after investigation this turned out to be true. It was an intuitive insight that provided the solution, even in a realm so rational and literal as computer networking.

  9. “Normally wisdom grows gradually… as the heart becomes expanded by love and softened through pain.”
    Beautifully expressed, Jyotish.
    The rational apple doesn’t fall far from the spiritual tree (Swamiji being the tree, of course).
    In divine friendship,

  10. Thank you Jyotish!
    I just read Swami’s a”new” book from Sangha/Ananda India “Out of the Labyrinth “. 40 years of his life experience, and writing this book since 1962(!!) , become visible with and beyond locked-in-intellectual reasoning and science vs. TRUE wisdom and expansion of consciousness and evolution on a upward spiral (Sartre, Kant,Darwin,conventional science,biologist,churches etc. are beaten within their own limited logic.
    Swamiji mastered, using his brilliant intellect and philosophical/scientific/religious/spiritual knowledge, to point out the path for the willing individual and the society for a dramatic change. Your work with and in Ananda, creating and being
    a role model for a new society with Yogananda’s vision (brotherhood communities) proves that this is possible.
    Mahalo for sharing your wisdom,

  11. Thanks so much for this wonderful article and painting, Jyotishji. I understand this somewhat as I see this in day to day life dealing with people in my field of work. I was reading a few months ago in the Wall Street Journal where CEOs of some well known companies were interviewed about the best decisions they made for their companies and how they made it. The answer was ” decisions made by intuition NOT by intelligence were the best decisions. If in the material world , we see intuition at its best, there is no question about it in the spiritual quest. The key is to have a true Guru who would guide you. Again intuition will help to know who is your true Guru.. Aum Guru..

  12. Thanks so much for this article.I have to admit I am a victim of over-analysis to quite an extent. And I have seen that it does not give answers but only leads to more queries. This article has given me great deal of comfort. I hope I fid that balance..

  13. “It will help you develop your intuition.” ….such wonderful guidance!!!!

  14. Back in the ’70s when all of you were up here at Ananda manifesting a New World, some of us misguided souls were taking self-help workshops such as the EST Training.
    There was however one bit of wisdom found in a phrase that was often repeated during the workshops: “Understanding is the booby prize.”

  15. Understanding facilitates syncrony with THOU. False perception is dysfunctional to any organism. Hobby-horse riding seems a compulsion for everyone though so… enjoy.

  16. So hard to get rid of these little gems. Our computers have a lot of storage. I’ll save a number of these and have them like cookies and milk….once in awhile and with complete enjoyment and no need to understand why…
    Lotsa love, Jyotish and Devi God’s Peace to you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.