Anesthesia and Consciousness
An anesthesiologist asks Sadhguru about the effects of anesthesia and whether “losing consciousness” is really possible.
An anesthesiologist poses a question about the effects of anesthesia and whether “losing consciousness” is really possible. No matter what medicine you use, Sadhguru explains, only pain and memory are taken away, and he discusses how creating numbness is the opposite of the yogic process.
Q: Namaskaram. I am an anesthesiologist by profession. It has been two hundred years and we still do not understand how we actually make patients unconscious. There are theories. The frustrating problem is that there are a few patients who are still completely aware of the entire period of surgery, and we do not know why. I heard you talking about seven layers of consciousness and much more. What amount of consciousness can be taken away by medications? And practitioners of yoga, will they be aware during this whole process?
Sadhguru: Whatever kind of anesthetic you use, you are not taking even a bit of consciousness away. You are taking away the pain and the memory, or one’s ability to recollect. It could definitely happen that someone goes through a major surgery where they are under full anesthesia and they do not remember anything when they became conscious, but after twenty-five years they may suddenly remember every bit of the surgery. I do not know if there are such cases, but it is very much possible that this can happen because you are only blocking the recollection process. You cannot take away the consciousness no matter how much you medicate.
One day, it so happened, Shankaran Pillai went to the dentist and said, “I need a tooth extraction done. How much does it cost?” The dentist said, “It costs five hundred dollars.” Shankaran Pillai said, “No, no that’s too expensive.” The dentist said, “Well, that’s the fee.”
So then Shankaran Pillai asked, “I hear fifty percent of the surgery cost is because of anesthesia. Suppose you don’t use any kind of anesthesia, what would it cost?” The dentist said, “Well, it would be very painful, but the cost would come down to two-hundred-and-fifty dollars.”
Then Shankaran Pillai said, “Suppose you don’t do the extraction, but you allow one of your trainee dentists to do it, what would it cost?” The dentist said, “Well, you would not get the same professionalism and expertise, but then it would cost you just one hundred dollars.”
Then Shankaran Pillai asked, “Suppose one of your students – the dentist in training – does it and another ten students get to watch it. If you use it as a demo, then what?” Then the dentist said, “Well, it’s going to be very painful, and ten people looking into your mouth could be embarrassing, but then I will have to pay you two hundred dollars for this.” Shankaran Pillai said, “Oh man, now you’re talking. I want an appointment confirmed for tomorrow for my mother-in-law.”
Anesthesia is a blessing that blocks pain and memory, but it does not take away consciousness in any sense at all. It does not touch that aspect of you. Even if someone passes away because of too much anesthesia – I hope such things aren’t happening often – you are not touching his consciousness. You are only making the body too numb to recover. But you have not touched his consciousness and you cannot. That is why the spiritual process becomes so significant, because you touch a dimension that nothing else can touch. That is why a Guru is held as the most important contact in one’s life, because he touches that dimension that nobody else can touch.
Q: You said that anesthesia touches only the recall process, but will it be taken away even in practitioners of yoga?
Sadhguru: The problem with practitioners of yoga is that they are able to recall much more than others can. With my life, I remember things that happened around me when I was an infant, about two, three months of age. Most people cannot recall what happened before they were four years of age. The thing is that it goes beyond – you recall things of many lifetimes.
The purpose of yoga is not to numb you. The purpose of yoga is to ignite you in such a way that you are far more alive than what you know as aliveness right now. Numbing, or hiding from reality, is never the intention of yoga. It is to face reality, and to know a higher or larger reality which makes all the small things which you think are real, which trouble you and torture you, disappear. All these things will vanish, not because they are gone, but simply because they have become insignificant.
With yoga, there is no numbing of pain. The way of yoga is, if you have a little problem, we want you to understand a much larger problem. If you face that larger problem, all your small problems become so insignificant, and there is only one problem always seething within you. It is seething with such power and such intensity that there is no way you can exist without finding a solution for it. And the solution is in your dissolution.
So anesthesia is just the reverse of yoga because it is trying to numb what is there. With yoga, we are not trying to numb. We are trying to enlarge the scope of your problem into a limitless space so that your problem is not a limited problem – it is a limitless problem. If you understand this, then you suddenly see there is no other problem because everything else becomes utterly insignificant. Not that it will not exist – it becomes insignificant because of the larger thing that you look at.
Q: What are the seven layers of consciousness you talked about?
Sadhguru: There is no such thing as seven layers or dimensions of consciousness. Consciousness is just one. It is just that, in an individual person’s evolution or grasp of things, there may be seven steps of growth. Because there are seven steps of growth, that individual person will perceive it as seven parts. Or, for the sake of understanding we could fragment it as seven.
It is like, in India we are in the Velliangiri Hills, and we say there are seven hills. There actually aren’t seven hills, there is only one big mountain. It is just that when we start climbing, there is a steep climb and a little drop, and a steep climb and a little drop happening seven times. So in our experience of climbing the mountain, we think or perceive, or we make it up in our mind that there are seven hills because the particular route that we are taking has seven ups and downs. If you climb the same mountain from the other side, it is just one big mountain, no seven hills.
Consciousness is just one. However, if and only if human beings take a certain route, you may think there are seven steps. But if you give yourself up to me, I will make sure there is only one step – no seven steps. It depends on which side of the mountain you approach it from. Accordingly, one’s experience changes.
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