Yoga and the Mind – Part 1

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Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati


yogaThe word yoga means joining.  When we study what yoga teaches us, we find that it is not a process of joining something with something else, but rather, a process of disjoining or disconnecting two entities that are as though united.  We take the two entities to be one and are not able to distinguish between them.  Yoga teaches that this perceived oneness of the two entities is the cause of all the pain and sorrow that we have in our lives.

Let us understand this with the help of a traditional example.  When a ball of iron is heated in a furnace, it becomes red-hot and appears as a ball of fire.  But this ball of fire, which is hot and round, is in fact a union or yoga of two separate entities, iron and fire.  Iron is one thing and fire, something else.  Each has its own properties.  The ball of iron is round in shape, black in color and cold to the touch.  Fire is red in color, hot to the touch and has no form or shape.
When iron and fire unite in a fireball, the qualities of each are passed onto or imposed upon the other.  The ball of iron, which is black in nature and cold, becomes hot and turns red.  Fire, which does not have a form of its own, seems to acquire a round shape.  There appears to be a transformation in the iron taking on the properties of fire and fire in turn, taking on the shape of the ball of iron. Both entities unite to become one entity called a fireball.  A person who does not know what iron is and what fire is, may take the fireball to be one entity and think that there is indeed a red-hot ball of fire.  But there cannot be a ball of fire because fire does not have a form.

A misunderstanding can thus be created if we do not know that what appears to be one, is in fact a union or yoga of two.  When we look at that fireball with the knowledge that it is in fact made up of two entities, a process of separation takes place in our mind.  We then recognize that the round form belongs to the iron and not to the fire, and that the red color and heat belong to the fire and not the iron ball.  So, while the fire appears to be round it remains formless and even while the iron appears to be red and hot, it continues to be black and cold.  When this fireball cools down, the iron again becomes cold and black as before and the fire merges back into its formless nature.  This separation should take place in our minds in order for us to understand what iron is and what fire is.  That is what yoga explains to us.

Yoga is the traditional teaching of ancient India.  What it teaches is that there is a union of two separate entities in our lives; a union of the person, puruùa, and the personality, prakçti.  So what we call ‘I’ indeed involves the person and the personality.  What is this person, and what is this personality?  By personality, we normally mean our body, our sense organs, our mind and our intellect.  Yoga explains that personality or the body-mind-sense complex, which is made of matter, is inert or insentient by nature.  Our mind and sense organs are products of matter in its subtle state and our body is the product of matter in its gross state.  However, we find the body to be sentient.  We find that our sense organs and mind enjoy liveliness or sentience.  What is it that brings about this sentience in the body-mind-sense complex?   It is that which is called the person or the Self, or the Consciousness or the Awareness.  Let us take the example of a glowing bulb.  What causes this bulb to glow with light?  We know that light is a product of the union of electricity and the filament that is inside the bulb.  Mere electricity cannot produce light, and by itself, a filament cannot produce light; but the union of electricity and filament produces light.  Similarly, mere personality does not have life, and mere Consciousness also is not sufficient to have life.  Just as the union of electricity and filament brings about a phenomenon called light, similarly also, the union of the person and the personality, the self and the non-self or the Consciousness and the material personality, results in a phenomenon called ‘life’.  We thus see how you and I already represent a union, that of the person and the personality.

Let me point out another very important thing.  What is it that separates one individual from another?   Is there something that is common to all of us?  We see that on the surface, each one of us is different.  But are we really totally different from each other or is there something that is common to us?  Is there a connecting link?  Yes, there is.  We know that there can be different bulbs having different capacities and therefore the light given out by these bulbs varies.   However, the electricity that is passing through all the bulbs is one.  Thus even though each bulb has its unique potential, all of them share the same electricity.  Similarly, each one of us has a unique personality.  Our emotions are different, our knowledge is different, our sense organs are different, our bodies are different and our personalities are different.  But the person, the Consciousness, the Self that informs all of us, is the same.

I take myself to be the body, the sense organs or the mind.  My conclusion about myself is that I am confined to the personality.  What yoga teaches us is that we are not merely this personality; that we are not merely the body; that we are not merely the sense organs and that we are not merely the mind.  The personality is, in fact, the vehicle for the manifestation of the person.  Just as electricity is a subtle principle and requires a filament, a bulb and such other appliances to become manifest, similarly, Consciousness or the Self requires this personality to become manifest as life.

Is there a problem in taking myself to be the personality?  My conclusion or judgment that I am my personality plays a very important role in my life.  Equating myself to my personality creates in me a sense of smallness and a sense of confinement.  When I look at the whole world around me, I find myself to be nothing, I feel insignificant.  In 1969, when man first landed on the moon, the television anchors were showing us the pictures of the earth taken from the moon.  The earth looked like a small globe.   What is this globe?  It is a small little planet in the solar system.  What is the solar system?  It is one little thing in this galaxy.  What is this galaxy?  One among countless galaxies.  Therefore, who am I?   I am just an insignificant little speck of dust among these countless galaxies!  Thus when we look at the scope of the whole universe and look at ourselves, we find ourselves to be insignificant.  Each one of us suffers from a sense of insignificance.  If we were quite happy being insignificant, we would not have any problem in life.  But none of us can accept that we are insignificant, that we do not count.

We cannot accept certain things about our life.  Do we accept the fact that we are going to die some day?  A vast majority of us do not!  We always want to push death as far out as we can.  Ask anyone, “Are you ready to die?”  He would want “One more day”.  Even a person who is dying does not want to give up.  A grandmother wants to see her grandson married; she is waiting for a great-grandchild!  They still have a lot of aspirations or things to do.  Nobody is willing to die.  We cannot accept death; we cannot accept old age; we cannot accept gray hair, and we cannot accept wrinkles on our faces.  We do not like to see that we are growing old and we do not like the idea that someday we may die.  Even though we know that whosoever is born has to die, we still cannot accept this reality of life.

Similarly, we cannot accept ignorance.  Nobody likes to be called ignorant or stupid or foolish, even though the world may judge him to be so!  A new patient, who had been admitted to a lunatic asylum, was telling another patient all about himself.  A doctor came to the new patient and asked him, “Hey, what is your name?”  The new patient did not reply.  “Where do you come from?”  No reply.  “What is the problem?”  No reply.  For about 10 minutes, the doctor tried to elicit information from this patient, but he would not oblige at all.  In frustration, the doctor left.  After the doctor had left, the other patient asked the new one, “You have been telling me all about yourself.  Why did you not answer the doctor?   The patient answered, “Do you think I am a fool?  The doctor has my file and all the information he wanted is right there!”  Thus even a foolish person does not want to accept that he is a fool.  Even though we know that we are ignorant, we do not accept our ignorance.

In the same way, we cannot be happy in being unhappy.  We cannot accept unhappiness or sorrow, being ignorant or being mortal. In fact, our life is a process of constantly trying to get rid of these things; we are always trying to learn new things.  The information industry as in the television, magazines, newspapers, radio and the internet, survives because of the curiosity in us.  We want to know what is happening.  Pursuing knowledge is one of the most important activities in our life.  Another very important activity is to try and push death as far away as we can.  The healthcare industry survives because of our innate desire to avoid death.  The entertainment industry survives because of our innate desire to be happy.  We are constantly trying to search for happiness, search for knowledge and search for immortality.  If I ask you how much happiness you want, you will tell me you want all the happiness.  If I ask you how long you want to be happy in a day, you will tell me that you want to be happy 24 hours a day.  If I had my way, I would not want a moment of unhappiness.  I want to be happy everywhere, at all times, at all places and under all conditions.

Thus our life is a process of searching for or seeking these three things:

knowledge, immortality and happiness.  If you analyze all the activities that we do, you will find that everything that we do is prompted by one of these three things.  We are trying to become happier than we are, or trying to avoid death, and live as long as we can, or trying to pursue knowledge.  Why do I want to become free from mortality?   It is because I have concluded that I am subject to death.  Why do I pursue knowledge?  It is because I have concluded that I am ignorant.  Why do I pursue happiness?  Again because I have concluded that I am unhappy.  So my pursuit of knowledge, my pursuit of happiness and my pursuit of immortality arises from a conclusion about me that I am, by nature, ignorant, unhappy and mortal.  This is my conclusion about myself.

But is it the reality about myself?  Am I really mortal, unhappy and ignorant by nature?  No.  Then why do I take myself to be so?  This conclusion arises from the confusion of taking one thing to be the other.  As we saw earlier, the ‘I’ is the union of both, person and personality.  The personality is a vehicle for the manifestation of the person.  The true nature of the ‘I’ is the person, the Consciousness, or the Self.  However, I equate myself with the body and take myself to be a mortal being; I equate myself with the mind and take myself to be a limited being, and I equate myself with the intellect and take myself to be an ignorant being.  This is how the yoga or the union began.  We habitually equate ourselves with the personality and thus entertain notions about ourselves being mortal, unhappy and ignorant and suffer on account of these notions.  All the pain and suffering in our lives is on account of our not being able to separate the two entities of person and personality, and can be traced to these erroneous conclusions.  We are trying to solve the three problems of death, unhappiness and ignorance all the time, but these are not legitimate problems because the truth or reality about I is not what I imagine it to be, but something else.

The purpose of yoga is to recognize this reality, or my true nature.  The ‘I’, the person, is by nature immortal, all knowledge or consciousness and all happiness or fullness.  All the wholeness or completeness and happiness is within me, the consciousness is within me, and the immortality is within me.  When we understand this, we have to live a life in a manner that this truth about ourselves becomes a reality for us.  Therefore, yoga teaches us a way of life by which this truth can progressively become a reality.  Yoga is defined in the scriptures as being that state in which we become completely free from all the disturbing thoughts and there is abidance in our own nature.  The entire science and practice of yoga is prescribed to bring this about.

The fact is that I already am what I am trying to become.  I am seeking something in life outside of myself, while in fact, what I am seeking is the ‘I’, my own self.  We tell the famous story of The Ten Boys to illustrate this.  Once upon a time, ten young boys from a village decided to go on a picnic.  They went to their parents to seek permission.  Their parents told them, “There are ten of you.  Make sure that all of you return safely.”  Of the ten boys, one was taller and heftier than the rest.  He was appointed leader and assigned the responsibility of making sure that all of them arrived back safely.  The boys set off and after a while they came across a river.  All the boys knew swimming and therefore plunged into the river, swam across and reached the other bank.  The leader said, “Let me verify if all of us have reached safely”.  He asked his friends to line up so that he could count everybody.   He began to count, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine.  We were ten when we left, but now we are only nine!”   He counted again, from the other end of the line.  “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.   What happened to the tenth boy?”   He counted several times, and every time the count went up to nine only.  He invited one of his friends to count.  But his friend had studied in the same school!  His count also was nine!  One by one each of them came forward and counted.  And each of them came to the same conclusion that there were only nine of them and not ten!  They concluded that the tenth boy was lost and became very worried.  They divided themselves into different search parties.  One search party went into the water to see if the lost boy had drowned.  The other search party started searching on the banks of the river.  The interesting thing is that nobody had a description of the tenth boy and neither did they even think about it.  All they thought was that they had to search for missing the tenth boy.  They searched for the tenth boy for the rest of the day, but could not find him.  In the evening all of them gathered again, disappointed.  Not knowing what to do, they began to cry.  At that time, an old man happened to pass by.  He asked what the matter was, and the leader got up and recounted the whole story of how they had lost the tenth boy.  “How did you determine that one of you is lost?”   “I counted them”.  “Show me how you counted them.”  “Ok.  Let me show you.”  He asked his friends to line up and he counted.  “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.”  The old gentleman realized what the matter was.  He said, “Do not worry my children.  The tenth boy is here.”  “Oh really, please tell us where he is!”  The boys thought that the man may have seen this tenth boy somewhere.  “Where is he?”  “Do as I tell you.”  He asked them to line up to be counted.  “Now again count carefully,” he said. The leader again started counting hopefully.  “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.”  Puzzled, he looked at the old man and asked, “Where is the tenth boy?”   The old man said, “You are the tenth boy”.   “What?”  Then he understood, “Hey!  I am the tenth boy.”

When I tell children this story I ask them how many ‘tenth boys’ there are.  “One.”  “Which one?”  “The one who counts.”  But each one counts by turn.  And each one of them is, in turn, the tenth boy.  So in the story, when each boy counted and searched for the tenth boy, he was really searching for himself.   Isn’t it amazing that they were searching for themselves?  When can this happen?  When it is concluded that the tenth boy is lost, when he does not know who he is and when he takes it for granted that he is not the tenth boy because his mind is distracted away from himself.  So to find the tenth boy what should he do?  He should turn his mind away from looking outside and look at himself.  This is what we do not have an opportunity to do.  We always look outside of ourselves to solve every problem.  When I am sad or unhappy, I look for and find the cause there, outside.

“Why are you sad this morning?”  “My parents are not listening to me.

Therefore, I am sad.”

“Why are you sad?”  “I received a letter from my parents this morning!”   “Why are you sad?”  “I do not have a job”.

“Why are you sad?”  “I have a job”.

“Why are you sad?”  “I am not married”.

“Why are you sad?”  “I am married”.

“Why are you sad?”  “I do not have children”.   “Why are you sad?”  “I have children”.

Thus, we invariably look outside of ourselves and are quite convinced that the cause of our sadness or unhappiness lies somewhere out there.  Therefore, when we want to be happy, because we have concluded that happiness also lies outside of ourselves, we look for an external source.  We look for wealth, name, fame, prosperity etc. for happiness.  We need someone else or something else to make us happy.  Our conclusion is that we are unhappy and therefore each one of us is counting for this elusive tenth man.

It has to be just the right kind of job, the right kind of house, the right kind of furniture, carpet, air-conditioning, heating, car and garage, and I am still counting!  I feel that I still lack something.  Everything is just as it should be and yet, the sense of something lacking does not seem to go away.  I never look at myself!  But this is what yoga wants us to do.  We have just to look at ourselves.  When can we look at ourselves?  When we become free of our pre-occupation with looking outside all the time.  This becoming free from our pre-occupation is a process, and yoga teaches us how to slowly achieve that.  It does not mean that we become free from work or free from life.  It is just our becoming free from searching elsewhere.  It is one thing to lead our lives from day to day, but quite another thing to make life a process of seeking happiness and security.  Right now our life has become a process of acquiring happiness and security and yoga teaches that acquiring happiness and security need not be the sole purpose of life.

When can I enjoy my life?   When I do not make life a process of seeking happiness or seeking security.   I erroneously conclude that I am unhappy and that my happiness has its source outside and therefore every action I perform is a means of acquiring this happiness.  That is how my mind is pre-occupied with things other than myself.  Yoga says that rather than that, make your life a process of giving happiness and giving security.  Right now I want the world to love me.  Yoga says, make your actions a means of giving love instead.  Love is something to be given, not acquired.  Can we find an object called love?  Is there a person called love?   Is there a situation called love or happiness?  Love is not something that can be acquired.

The goal is to slowly become free from our constant pre-occupation with things other than ourselves, and gradually turn our mind towards ourselves, so that we may recognize what we truly are.  For this, the mind should be free from the constant searching for something on the outside all the time.  If I am driving at 80 miles an hour and all of a sudden realize that I am going in the wrong direction, what should I do?  I cannot turn around immediately.  I must first apply the brake and slow down.  Only then can I slowly make a turn.  Similarly, let our lives become a process of slowly becoming centered upon ourselves rather than being centered upon something external.  I don’t mean becoming self-centered in the narrow sense.  Let us become other-centered with reference to our activity so that our minds become centered upon ourselves.

Our lives have to transform and that transformation is what yoga teaches us.  May life become a process, not of acquiring what we do not have, but a process of offering what we have.  You will be surprised at all that you have that can be offered.  Only when we start giving do we discover what we have.   So yoga is teaching us how to make life a process of offering.  That is the first step. This will then lead us to discover who we truly are and discover what we are truly searching for.

———————————–to be continued————————-

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