Transforming the Mind

Swami Satyananda Saraswati given at Bihar School of Yoga, Singapore on July 25th 1979

There is one simple thing that everyone in this world should know: 'Man is more than he appears to be'. In every human being there is a state of consciousness, a dimension of personality which is tenable, powerful, creative and beyond pain. We have lived in the body, and we continue to live in the body - that is the tragedy of our life. We have never been out of the body. We don't know if there is anything that is beyond the body or anything that controls the body. We have a mind and we don't know it. We have a cobra in our pocket; we have a bomb ready to explode; we have the treasures of the three worlds underneath us, and we don't know it.

This is not to be taken in the religious sense, but it is something very intimate. You know the difference between an illiterate man and an educated man. An educated man is capable of handling certain things in society, whereas an illiterate man is not. Both are human beings. Both have brains, gyanindriyas, minds, but one is capable and the other is incapable. This is because one has undergone incessant training and the other has not. On account of training, the buddhi or intellect of the educated man is able to handle the affairs of his life in a much better way than the illiterate man. In the same manner, thousands, all over the world, are in the grip of suffering; and everyone, without any exception, is a victim of what are called the 'pains of life'. It is not because the world is full of pain- it is man's incapacity to transcend the pain and apprehend the pleasure of life.

Yoga is a very scientific system by which man is able to transform his state of consciousness. The same mind which suffers from pain, is also capable of experiencing pleasure. Happiness and misery are both expressions of the human mind in different states. So, instead of fighting with pain, instead of kicking the shadow, why not bring in the light? The mind of man is total and complete, and it is the most mysterious personality of all. Unless you are able to handle the mind, you can never handle the affairs of life. If you can't handle life, you can't handle God- it is impossible no matter what you think or who you worship. Knowledge of the mind and the harnessing of the potentialities of the mind are necessary if we are to be successful in life. This mind is passion and greed, neurosis and suicide, insomnia and cancer, but this same mind is also samadhi.

How to change the mind

What is the secret of life, the master key which opens all the doors? 'Chitta vritti nirodha' - absolute control over the functions of the mind, not just the passionate or jealous mind, the frightened or fearful mind, but the total mind - chitta. 'Chitta vritti nirodha' is yoga and this is the science which humanity is in need of now.

Whether you are a businessman or a housewife, rich or poor, you have a mind and it is capable of causing all kinds of hallucinations and problems. You may have thought that it was the absence of prosperity that was causing the problems, but we have seen prosperous nations fail hopelessly to experience 'total living'. Now people every where are realising that neither prosperity nor poverty, disease nor good health, bad family nor good family, matter - nothing matters except the state of your mind.

People in different parts of the world have tried to change the mind through religious beliefs, practices and moralities. But it is not possible to change the mind by intellectual imposition, by fear or by law. Real change is only brought about through a process of transformation in the very structure of the mind. If you take a blind man and superimpose a set of eyes on him, he is still a blind man, but he looks like a man who can see. In the same manner, you cannot transform the mind by imposing religious morality. Religious morality is conducive to a so called healthy society, but transformation of consciousness is something else.

Most people understand how a chemical undergoes transformation. Mind is not a single unit but a composition of many tattwas or elements. In order to transform the mind, you have to know what the tattwas are, and this is the subject of yoga, Just as the milk is transformed into curd, curd into butter, then ghee and fat. In the same manner, the tamasic mind is transformed into the rajasic, then into the sattwic mind; finally you transcend the mind.

In Samkhya philosophy, the evolution of mind is conceived in five stages: dull, scattered, oscillating, one-pointed, and controlled. By regular practice, the lower states of the mind are gradually evolved into higher states. If you have a mind which is dissipated and restless as a monkey, what are you going to do? Instead of arresting, crushing, or punishing the mind, why don't you find out why it becomes restless. In the Gita it is written:

"Even as a lamp in the midst of a breeze becomes restless, in the same way so does the mind..."

In Monghyr in the month of April, we have the fiercest dust storms imaginable, and as soon as they come, we close all the windows of the ashram. In the central hall there is an akhanda jyoti (eternal flame) which has continued to burn day and night for the last fifteen years. If it is blown out by a storm, then the sankalpa would be broken. Therefore, when a storm comes we close all the windows, then open them again when the storm finishes. Similarly, when the mind becomes restless, the passions ride high, and the vrittis are absolutely notorious, you must know how to close the windows of the mind and make this light one-pointed and unwavering. This is called yoga.

Yoga and dhyana

Yoga and dhyana are both synonymous terms; there is no difference between them. Dhyana is yoga and yoga is dhyana. In English, dhyana is translated as meditation, because there is no other word that is comparable, but actually this is not an adequate or clear translation.

Dhyana yoga is a dynamic process of the mind, not a passive state. You can't just close your eyes and practise it. In dhyana you withdraw the indriyas and expand the mind. Therefore, the practices of dhyana yoga are designed on two bases - pratyahara (withdrawing the sensual tendencies) and dharana (becoming aware of the object). You can use various methods such as awareness of the breath, concentration on bhrumadhya (eyebrow centre) or nasikagra (nose tip), or rotating the consciousness in sushumna (spinal cord).

Those who know how to practise dhyana possess the key of life and are able to handle this restless mind properly in all situations. In the Upanishads, Gita and Ramayan, in fact, in every religious book, dhyana yoga has been spoken of. Dhyana yoga is one of the most important sadhanas that India has given to the world. Today, in both the east and the west, millions of people are practising dhyana.

The effect of dhyana yoga is the wine of Omar Khayyam. He said in the Rubaiyat. "What kind of wine do you drink and still remember the pains of the world?" What kind of pooja or worship do you perform, what kirtans do you sing, what religion do you follow, that still you are unwell, unhappy and unfulfilled? Millions follow Christianity, Islam and Hindu dharma, yet they are still suffering today. This means that something is wrong - either the practices are not correct or else they have lost their purpose and their aim. People are shooting in the dark. But the solution is simple- just ten minutes of absolute quietness.

Many people say, 'We are householders and we have no time to practise dhyana yoga. But if we do our duties correctly, isn't this enough?' No, this is not enough. The work of a housewife, businessman, doctor or lawyer, can be converted into karma yoga and give peace of mind. Karma yoga is also conducive to God realisation. But remember that dhyana yoga is an incomparable science. It doesn't matter whether you are a karma yogi, bhakti yogi, hatha yogi or gyana yogi, if you don't practise dhyana yoga, you cannot experience that incomparable state of mind.

Scientific appraisal

If you practise simple dhyana yoga for a period of ten minutes each day, the changes that take place in the body and mind are fantastic. Of course, the changes that take place in the mind cannot be measured by instruments, but the changes in the physical body, in the brain, heart and lungs, have been measured by scientists.

The brain produces four main kinds of waves according to the state of consciousness. The fastest is beta corresponding to the normal waking state. Then comes alpha which corresponds to the relaxed state when you are just entering sleep. Theta and delta are slow waves produced in deep sleep. In meditation it has been found that alpha intensities rise high, going into theta and delta in deep meditative states.

There are many phases of sleep and the waves of most people are random and chaotic. There is no order or harmony. The moment you start dhyana, however, the brain waves slow and become more intense. Some scientists have found that there are periods in which long trains of alpha or theta waves are produced and these tend to be more ordered and harmonised. The metabolism slows, lowering body temperature and blood pressure. The eyes, sinuses and bronchial tubes are also affected.

In the last few years, an eminent psychiatrist from Melbourne, Australia, Dr Ainslie Meares, has conducted meditation classes for people with cancer. He has found that dhyana allows such people to isolate the past experiences which led to the development of cancer. This technique cancels the effects of the past and releases the frozen energies which were producing the cancer. Dhyana also brings about a profound and sustained reduction of anxiety, which allows the individual to isolate the cancer and mobilise his energies to fight it. He has published some very interesting findings in the Medical Journal of Australia, which actually show photographs of a cancer reducing its size after three months of intensive meditation. Dr Meares claims that the patient is now absolutely free of active cancer. This is a big achievement. From this you can realise how effective and powerful the practice of dhyana yoga is.

Hatha yoga approach

There are two different methods of approaching dhyana - either by meditating directly, without any aid, or by creating the condition through the physical body, which is the subject of hatha yoga.

In the physical body there are 72,000 nadis which carry positive and negative types of energy, called prana shakti (vital energy) and manas shakti (mental energy). Symbolically they are known as surya (sun) and chandra (moon), but in tantra they are called ida and pingala nadis. These two nadis are like high tension wires or lines that flow inside the spinal cord. They originate in mooladhara chakra at the base of the spine, and cross over at swadhisthana, manipura, anahata and vishuddhi as they ascend the spine, finally terminating in ajna at the top of the spine in the medulla oblongata.

Ida flows through the left nostril and pingala flows through the right. The temperature of the breath in ida is less than the temperature of the breath in pingala, as verified by scientific examinations. They usually do not flow at the same time- sometimes ida flows and sometimes pingala flows. Ida crosses into the right side of the brain, and pingala crosses into the left side. When ida or the left nostril is flowing, then the right side of the brain is active and the left is quiet. When the right nostril or pingala is flowing, then the left side of the brain is active and the right is quiet. Only half of the brain is active at one time. What happens when both ida and pingala flow together? This is known as the awakening of sushumna, when both sides of the brain function simultaneously.

It is said that when ida is flowing, you should do mental work, and when pingala is flowing, physical work. But when sushumna is flowing you should not work at all, because the opening of sushumna is the awakening of the whole brain. When sushumna begins to flow, dhyana becomes spontaneous, automatic. You don't have to do anything - just close the eyes and meditation takes place. This is called the direct method, dealing with the mind through the mind itself. But for most aspirants, the indirect method, dealing with the mind through the physical body, is necessary to reach it. This is why the practices of hatha yoga are so important for the aspirant of dhyana.

Hatha yoga is not only asanas and pranayama. Technically speaking, hatha yoga means those practices by which you bring about the union of the two forces in the body - ha and tha, sun and moon, ida and pingala, or sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. If you have been practising hatha yoga and sushumna begins to awaken, then no other method is necessary. You don't need any sadhana or any technique. Just close the eyes and become meditative. Even if you have hundreds and thousands of problems, the moment of sushumna awakening is the moment of transcendence. That is why yogis say, 'Awaken sushumna!' It is also said in the tantras that until sushumna is awakened, no matter what practices you do, what gods you worship, which guru you visit, what shastras you are versed in, you are going to get nothing.

Therefore, you must approach dhyana by one of the two methods, either directly or through the practices of hatha yoga, and one day you will find you are in meditation. The hatha yoga system is firstly the purification of the body, secondly asanas, and thirdly pranayama. Beyond that, there is nothing that you have to do - everything just happens.

Pranayama is the gateway to dhyana. Through pranayama you can go as deep as you want. You don't have to do anything but go on practising pranayama with jalandhara, uddiyana and moola bandhas and some of the kriyas. You don't have to control or fight with the mind. Just do your practices for 10 or 15 minutes every day and in the course of time you will find that your mind is already in dhyana. This is the hatha yoga system.

Raja yoga is another system by which you regulate your living habits, eliminating the complications in your life and practice. Here, just a little asana and pranayama are done. Then the meditation techniques are practised.

Sitting posture for dhyana

The question of which particular asana is best for dhyana, has been answered differently by various people. Some modern teachers say that you can even meditate in an easy chair, but scientifically speaking, this is not true. When meditation is practised, the best asana is siddhasana and the second best is padmasana. Most other asanas can be used if you can't sit in these two asanas - vajrasana, sukhasana, swastikasana, or easy chair asana.

You must remember one thing, in dhyana physical changes are taking place in the body. It is not only a mental exercise, a mystic exercise, or an abstract practice. In dhyana yoga, tangible, substantial and clear changes take place in the body. For example, when you meditate for 15 or 20 minutes, the blood pressure falls. Then you may have hallucinations and visions, you may see lights and hear sounds. These are all symptoms of low blood pressure.

To maintain the correct blood pressure, siddhasana has to be practised regularly. This is because in siddhasana, the lower heel presses against the perineum or shukra nadi, and the upper heel presses the viscera or vajra nadi. If the shukra nadi and vajra nadi are under pressure, the blood pressure will not fall. This has been scientifically proven.

The shukra nadi is located at the perineal body between the excretory and urinary organs. Vajra nadi is just above the urinary organ. These two nadis play an important role in the discharge of semen. Vajra nadi is responsible for stimulation and passion, while shukra nadi is concerned with insemination. That is why they say practise siddhasana, so that you will have control over the shukra and vajra nadis. It is therefore necessary that siddhasana be practised for dhyana yoga. If you can't sit comfortably in siddhasana, then use padmasana. If you cannot do either of these, then any asana is better than not practising at all.

Is it possible to meditate while lying on the bed in shavasana? No, because in the prone position, mooladhara, the spinal cord, the heart and the brain are all on the same level. In dhyana yoga it is important that the level of the heart and brain are different. There is a scientific reason behind this. If the heart and brain remain on the same level, dhyana will not take place. Nidra will take place instead, that is, deep sleep will come. Therefore, a steady and comfortable sitting posture is very important for dhyana yoga.

Digestion and life span

Now we come to a topic which has caused much controversy around the world, and that is diet. The Christian monks, Muslim mullahs and some of the tantric sects in India take non-vegetarian food. Yoga does not advocate vegetarianism or non-vegetarianism, however, the diet for dhyana yoga should be digestible at a lower body temperature. The reason for this is that while you are meditating, the inner body temperature drops and the digestive process slows down. Therefore, the diet for one who is meditating should be adjusted according to this principle.

Experiments on animals have also confirmed that when the inner body temperature regularly rises very high, the life span is reduced, and when the inner body temperature is lowered, then the life span is lengthened. Rats doubled their life span when the temperature of the body was brought down. The life span of other animals was reduced when their temperature was increased. The temperature inside the body is responsible for digestion and life span.

Be a yogi

All the wealth of man cannot equal ten minutes of dhyana yoga. All the pains of man, and there are hundreds and thousands, can be overcome by ten minutes of meditation. The best time to practise dhyana is in the early morning between 4 and 6. The second best time is in the evening after 9. The third best is around midnight, from 11 to 1. Early morning is sattvic; evening is rajasic; and midnight is tamasic. The tantric sadhanas are practised late at night, the sattvic sadhanas are practised early in the morning. Therefore, adjust your sadhana accordingly.

The rishis of India realised the relationship between the mind and life. Life influences the mind and the mind influences life. If you can control either one, you are a mahatma or a saint. Of course, you can't control life - it is just not possible. But with the help of dhyana yoga, you can manage the mind. If you are able to manage the mind, then you are a yogi.

Culture is not the result of an industrial or material revolution, but a spiritual revolution. No matter what country you live in or which language you speak, yoga was part of your ancient culture. This great science was known and practised by your ancestors thousands of years ago. But for many ages the whole world has neglected this aspect of life. Today, however, humanity is again becoming aware of their spiritual heritage.

In 1968 when I started this mission, very few people knew anything about yoga. But today we are experiencing a great resurgence. Everywhere I go people ask: 'Teach me a way to transcend the barriers of time, space and object.'

In the Kaivalya Upanishad there is a mantra which illustrates the meditation process very well: When you churn butter, you use a stick, and that is the mantra Om. Just as a milkmaid is churning that stick, right, left, right, left; so Om, Om, Om. Likewise, a pandit, a man of knowledge, should do the same and practise dhyana. In this way all his pains, his dukha, his sins will be transformed.