This article is a chapter from the book An Instrument of Thy Peace.
Let us consider this supreme faculty of thinking with which God has endowed us. If trained and purified, this faculty will become the means of attaining the highest experience that will bestow illumination and liberation. However, if it is untrained and impure, it binds the individual to this earth life and drags him down through endless experiences of sorrow, pain and suffering. It is at once the highest endowment and the greatest liability. It can be your greatest friend and helper, but it can also be your greatest enemy. The entire matter depends upon how you are able to relate yourself to the mind, what your understanding of its place in your life is, and what role it plays in your life.
The correct understanding of its place in your life can only be acquired if you have grasped the true purpose of your life on this earth. It is in this light that you must understand the ways of the mind and the part it is to play in the process of life and in the right unfoldment of your life. The mind is your instrument and the power that enables you to overcome all that stands between you and your divine destiny. Your divine destiny is to conquer sorrow, pain and suffering and to ascend to a state of perfect bliss. It is a state of liberated consciousness and total fearlessness. It is a state that is eternal, where there is no fear of reverting to any lesser state. This divine destiny is the goal of your life. Your life on earth here is meant to be a process of progressing onward to this glorious divine destiny that is your birthright. Your true inner identity is divinity, and hence the divine experience is your birthright. Claiming this birthright is the central significance of your life.
To make life such a process, the fullest cooperation of your inner being is essential. No matter how much God has graced you, if your own mind stands against you, then your aspirations will all be in vain. The mind is the most important subject of study, because it is the key factor in deciding whether your life will be a glorious success or a miserable failure. It decides whether your life is a thing of satisfaction, contentment and joy or one of great dissatisfaction, frustration and failure. Hence it is that the great masters of wisdom bestowed great attention on unravelling the mysteries of the mind, understanding its strengths and weaknesses, and seeing how the mind could become our greatest ally. They have bestowed unto posterity the fruits of their study, and we are richer for their quest.
The natural tendency of the mind is to be bound up with the senses. This lower aspect of the mind is part of the normal make-up of any human being, and it has to be weaned away from its inclination towards desires and sensual fulfilment. We have to purposefully train the mind, because the necessary change does not happen by itself If the lower mind is day by day left to itself, it becomes more and more confounded in its downward trend, because desires and cravings get intensified by their fulfilment. Desires are endless, and they can never be satisfied. You can never hope to put an end to desires by satisfying them. The more you satisfy them, the greater is their intensity. The only way to transcend desire is by turning aside from desire, and through this, one is able to triumph over the lower mind. It is through the renunciation of gross desires that one ultimately becomes established in inner mastery.
But then no one likes to give up anything. One does not even like to hear the word renunciation. It is thought that renunciation is something to do with odd sorts of persons—monks and others—who are not meant for society! People think, “They are an eccentric and peculiar lot. God has made this world for us, and we are meant to enjoy these things. What is wrong with enjoying these sense pleasures when they are made for us?” But this seemingly rational argument has to be reviewed.
Yes, God made this world and all the objects in it and put you here in their midst, but He also made another wondrous, spiritual dimension. One little drop of this spiritual experience will instantaneously put to shame all the sense pleasures in the whole world. Let’s say you got together the entire possible range of sense enjoyments and pleasant experiences of this entire universe and put them on one dish of huge scales. Then, if you put one little grain of the supreme bliss of the spirit on the second dish, it would outweigh the pleasures in the first dish to an infinite degree. This is the truth.
When this possibility has been offered, what then do you think it is that you are meant for? Are you meant for these temporary experiences that one moment give pleasure and that sting you in the second moment? The Upanishads have ultimately declared that true happiness only lies in the all-full. Joy is found there—not in the fragmentary and fleeting. Fleeting and fragmentary experience is changeful, finite and conditioned by time and space. That alone which is full—transcending all limitations—can impart to you a joy that will never fade. The experiences of the Western mystics such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. John of the Cross and many others confirm this great declaration of the Upanishads. St. Francis calls that divine experience “the perfect joy.”
God has not only created all these sense objects and put you amidst them, but He has also created another dimension, compared to which this world of sense objects is like a little glow-worm before the midday sun in a clear summer sky. The great teacher Sri Ramakrishna had an answer to the argument against renunciation of sense objects. “Oh, why should a person think of renunciation? Let me tell you. Think of what farmers do when they want to store grain in their granaries. There is a plague of rats, and the rats go in and eat all the grain. So, the farmers find out where the rat holes are, and in front of each rat hole they put some inferior grain that was not good enough to be sold. The rats come out of the hole and immediately eat the inferior grain, and the high quality remains untouched. This is what a person is doing if he cannot renounce the inferior things that are before him in favour of the great things that God has in store.”
The opening verse of the first Upanishad says, all right, if you think these are all nice things, then you must enjoy them. By all means enjoy, but don’t make them the goal of your life, for there is something higher. Not all people will become complete renunciates, but while you are still engaging with the things of the world, base your life on the principle of renunciation. Even while you partake of these things, aim at the great goal and have detachment inside. Do not be a slave to desire. Always keep the goal in view and move towards it.
The Upanishad says to partake of these harmless pleasures of life while being settled in renunciation. Partake in them, but exercise your common sense, and do not run into indulgence that harms your welfare. There is no need to put on a castor oil face! Have the good things of life—but only those that do not harm you. By the way, they didn’t include hard drinks, cigarettes and other such things in the category of “the good things of life.” Anything that adversely affects the welfare of the physical body or the inner vital power or the mind should be avoided. Be discriminating and know what is conducive to your highest welfare.
The mind can be a friend to you and the vehicle by which you go to the highest destination, or it can become the chain that binds you to this lower life. The insight given by Lord Krishna in the Gita is that the tendency of the undisciplined mind is to keep brooding over sense objects and their enjoyment. Thus dwelling upon the sense objects it conceives attachment to them, giving rise to desire, and from desire anger arises, resulting in confusion of the mind. When the intellect is thus confused, one loses the power of reasoning, then the control over oneself is lost, and thus one gets completely lost.
One has to wean the mind away from this habitual tendency to brood over sense objects. This means that one must make the mind strong, because this natural tendency to move towards sense objects is due to a weakness of the mind. The key to strengthening the mind is to develop the power of concentration. A great many of the distressing mental states that plague our day-to-day life are due to weakness of mind. By the very fact of gradually training the mind in concentration and thereby strengthening it, many of these painful mental states vanish. Most of the psychological troubles that continuously affect us disappear as we grow in concentration and strength of mind.
Mental concentration can be developed through taking recourse to pranayama everyday. It purifies the mind and increases sattva, and with the increase in sattva, concentration develops because sattva has a salutary affect upon the continuous fluctuating nature of the mind-stuff. The two features of fluctuation and imagination are present in a very great degree in an undefined and gross mind. A sattvic mind loses its grossness and becomes subtle and refined. Concentration automatically increases in the subtle mind, because where there is purity of mind, there is a refinement of the mind-stuff. Concentration is as natural to a refined and purified mind as fluctuation and imagination are to an impure and gross mind.
We must develop the power of renunciation, because renunciation alone can ultimately overcome the desire-nature of the mind. The desire-nature is part of the instinctive lower mind, and discrimination is part of the higher mind. The intelligent reasoning aspect of the mind should be made to see very clearly that desire is insatiable, and the only way of dealing with the desire nature of the mind is to transcend it. But then the desire-nature has been part and parcel of your very psyche, and to reject the desire-nature would seem to be like denying a part of yourself. It seems to be a self-sacrifice to deny the activity of a part of you that has become your second nature through long indulgence. To renounce the desire-nature is in a way a sort of partial death, because you have to die to a part of yourself that up till now has become your identity. Renunciation means self-denial, self-sacrifice and control of the senses, but this is painful and no one likes it. Who would like to die to a part of one’s nature?
Maybe though this is not the right understanding of renunciation, and there is another way of looking at it. Let us take another look at renunciation, where we see that it is not a negative process in which we are losing something. On the contrary, it can be seen as a positive step, whereby we affirm something higher. Looked at from the right angle and understood in the correct perspective, renunciation is actually emerging from death into life. So long as you are indulging your desire nature, you are actually in a state of slumber.
Your eternal identity is buried in a sort of temporary death, and you are not living in that dimension where you are really what you are. To renounce this present life of gross physical sensations is not death. On the contrary, this life of sense indulgence is death, because he who is only active upon the sensual plane has not started to live. When you renounce, then actually life begins, because renunciation is a waking up into true life. Renunciation is a great gain because it brings into your life the higher awareness, inner joy and wisdom that you have been missing for all these years.
Supposing someone asked you to empty your bag of copper cents in order to have it filled with gold coins. Who would think that emptying the bag of copper coins is a great loss, and who would hesitate to do it? Renunciation is exactly this. It is the rousing call to empty yourself of all that is petty, so that your being may be filled with something precious beyond description. Renunciation means ceasing to run after shadows and opening yourself to that which is of eternal value. It is an enrichment of life. The moment you truly renounce, you feel yourself liberated, and only at that moment do you taste the real joy of freedom.
Supposing some robbers waylaid a man, took everything from him, bound him up with rope, and after some time he managed to loosen the ropes and escape. Would this man regret the loss of these ropes that held him in bondage? He would throw them away—good riddance! In a similar way, if renunciation is rightly understood, then it is seen as a freeing of oneself from the bondage of desire. What a wonderful experience it would be if by a determined effort on your part you broke free from these bonds!
Sense restraint at first sight seems to be something negative, but upon a deeper consideration it will be found to be something tremendously desirable that will enrich your life. Restraint puts you in control of yourself. This discipline of renunciation is not a single step, but is a slow process of philosophical enquiry and analysis of your own experience. You need to discover that sense experiences are one thing when imagined, another thing when approached, and quite another when actually obtained. The imagination of a thing is much more pleasant and attractive than the actual experience of the thing.
Through renunciation you have to triumph over desire, and this transcending of desire imparts tremendous strength and will-power to your mind. Desire is one of the most prolific sources of restlessness in the mind, and the moment you transcend desire, a great equipoise comes into the mind. The mind requires peace, and peace is the prerequisite for happiness and mental strength. When the mind is agitated by desire, it cannot be established in firm intelligence, and firmness of intelligence comes through acquiring this inner poise. Once again, when desire is transcended through renunciation, renunciation becomes a thing of joy.
Cultivation of the will requires that you conserve your energy. When desire is restrained, that itself develops a great deal of power within you. After all, desire is a dynamic force that is dissipated in its fulfilment, but if it is held in check, then that dynamic force accumulates. It is then a valuable asset enabling you to achieve success in your endeavour of moving towards the goal. Mental energy is being wasted due to our thoughtless and unorganised living, but if that wastage is carefully noted and checked, then that also brings about a great increase in energy. Gurudev used to pinpoint the various channels through which energy leaks away, and he gave very elaborate instructions in his book Mind Its Mysteries and Control about how this leakage of energy should be checked.
One of the greatest forms of leakage of energy is through unnecessary worry. It is one of the greatest of the diseases of the modern mind. I say “unnecessary worry,” because worry never solves a problem. Worry drains your mental energy and makes you less capable of solving the problem. There is some hope of success if you just tackle the problem. But if you worry and thereby reduce yourself to a very negative state, it leaves you in a disadvantageous position, because you are drained and therefore less able to deal with the problem and overcome it. Many a time the thing that you are worrying about never happens. You go on worrying, anticipating and fearing, but it never happens. This inveterate habit of worry should be checked, and one must refuse to give place to worry. Immediately engage your mind in positive thinking, and through gradual effort one can overcome this great drain on one’s mental energy.
Unnecessary worry has to be overcome through a deeper understanding that our life is the result of our own past actions. The experiences that we are to go through in this life are already set and charted; therefore, it is irrational to worry about these experiences. The right attitude is a robust “yes” to life and a robust confidence in one’s ability to go through this experience and emerge the stronger for it. Worry also presupposes a basic lack of faith in the intelligence, goodness and justice of the universal Being that directs our life. If you trust in that Being and know that He is by your side and that His plan for you is only for your highest good, then this trust will make the worry superfluous. The metaphysical implication of worry is that, even though you believe in God, you don’t trust in His goodness. You don’t have the deep abiding faith that He will never do anything that is harmful to His child. Develop faith in God, and have trust in His all-goodness.
Avoid worry by deciding to face life as it comes and gain through the experience. Conquer worry through faith in God, trusting in His goodness. Let’s look at this pragmatically. If you do want to worry, set aside a specific time for it, and whatever items you have to worry about, make a list of them. If these items start popping into your mind outside of the designated time, say, “No, not now, this is not your time,” and resolutely refuse to pay any attention to them. They have got their own time, and when the time comes, you sit down calmly, put the list of worrisome items before you and do all the worrying you need to do. When you have finished the worrying, strike the items off the list. That is the practical way to tackle worrying, and because it is systematic, worry doesn’t become a continuous thing that drains off your energy.
Fear is another great drainer of mental energy that plays havoc with the untrained mind. Vague fears come up that may never happen. Even if they do happen, then you can deal with them at that time. They say that cowards die many deaths, but the brave die but once. The man of fears undergoes terrific experiences a number of times, but the real-life experience maybe never comes. How many motor accidents, major operations or financial disasters does the person undergo inside his own head? Fear is a terrible thing—it can give rise to high blood pressure, heart trouble and disturbed sleep. The entire body processes can be adversely affected by too much fear.
Fear can be overcome through an unshaken faith in God. “Nothing can touch me. I am the immortal, unborn, deathless spirit of the divine. What can anything that happens here on this little planet do to me? Weapons cannot injure me, fire cannot burn me, water cannot wet me; I am the unborn, eternal Atman. That is my nature.” This is the great doctrine of fearlessness based upon truth. Truth is the greatest strength; therefore, meditate upon your Reality. Evoke the awareness of your undying, divine nature, and try to base your life upon your true identity. Be what you are and be fearless.
All these things I am telling you are aided by developing concentration. Develop attention in everything—whatever you do from morning till night, no matter what it is, try to do it with full and undivided attention. That is the secret of acquiring concentration. It is not a specific technique done at a particular time of day; rather, it goes on throughout the day in all your activities. Gradually train yourself to focus your undivided attention upon anything that you are engaged in doing. This will gradually make the mind develop the power of concentration.
The mind and you—who is leading, and who is following? Consider this question. If the mind leads and you follow, then the prospects are not good! You must lead, and the mind must follow. Let your awareness always be linked up with the reasoning intelligence or the feeling heart and not with the lower mind that is bound up with sense appetites and craving. Then alone you are in a safe position and the situation is under control. When the mind through its habitual pulling tries to go towards the senses, immediately reject this lower tendency. Be very strict with it, and don’t give leniency to the mind. If you give leniency to the mind you are lost. Up till now it has been the main fiddler and you have been dancing to its tune—but no longer will you be at its mercy. Therefore, be strict with the mind.
When spontaneous thoughts arise that lead you towards sense enjoyment, do not allow them to remain in the mind. When a thought breaks the surface into the conscious mind, it is harmless and has no power and you can just brush it aside. But if you allow it to get enlarged in the imagination, from this stage onwards it becomes dynamic. If you allow it to remain for a longer time and you start paying attention to it, then it expands into imagination and it takes the form of a specific desire. From there the mischief starts.
Promptly reject thoughts that are not necessary for you, and do not allow them much time. Gurudev used the expression, “Nip them in the bud,” which means to not allow them to take a different form. Launch upon a campaign of non-cooperation with the mind. If the mind doesn’t want to do something because it says it is unpleasant, then make it do it! It is good for you. If the mind insists on doing something, don’t do it. You do just the opposite of what the mind wants to do. This is something to remember. Develop the will-power and strengthen the mind.
Observe silence for some hours daily, as it develops the power of concentration. The principle of silence develops will-power and also checks the leakage of energy. We are in the habit of talking too much, and this is also a drain on the energy. Be moderate in speech, and to compensate for over-talking, observe periods of silence. Thinking only of things that are required to be thought about is also something that develops the power of will. Why go on unnecessarily thinking about a hundred different things? To counter that, you can create within the mind some background of thought, either through the habit of mental japa, or otherwise through keeping yourself occupied with some interest that becomes a focal point for the attention of the mind.
Last but not least, one must be watchful about over-indulgence in sex from the physical and mental points of view. This also has to be kept under rational restraint. Sex is part of human nature and has a definite place in one’s life, yet to go out of the rational bounds is something that is not natural. Everything has its time, its place and also its limit, and you must use wisdom. Man is a rational animal, so the animal part should be under the government of the rational part.
If these things are done, then the mind grows from strength to strength, day by day. The power of the will also develops, and in this way the checking of lower desires increases sattva in your nature. Sattva refines the mind-stuff, and by its very nature it begins to develop the power of concentration. Where there is increase of sattva, there is concentration.
These topics are all a broad spectrum in the study of mind management. May God bless you and grant you the insight to seek the right relationship between yourself and your mind. May your purified mind move you towards the goal. It is the greatest asset a man can have in making this life a success. May the blessings of Gurudev Swami Sivananda be with you, and may the grace of the Lord and the blessings of all the saints enable you to make life an ascending process towards divine illumination. Hari Om Tat Sat.