Negative States of Mind & Yoga

Satsang with Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, Ganga Darshan, 1986-89

In order to release past impressions from our minds which negatively influence our behaviour, is it enough to simply witness them in meditation, or is it necessary to re-experience the pain and emotion that go along with them?

Past experiences in yogic terminology are known as samskara and, if you are aware of them you can get rid of them by simply witnessing them. If some samskaras come up to the level of the conscious mind during meditation and you re-live the pain and emotion, it is possible to get rid of it completely. The problem lies in knowing what our samskaras are, because generally we believe that our desires, ambitions, likes and dislikes are samskaras when actually they are not. They are patterns or modifications of mind - vrittis.

Samskaras go much deeper than that. They belong to the realm of the unconscious mind and construct the human personality. Without samskaras we would not be classified as human beings. If we try to understand personality in general, we will find that even animals have personalities. They have samskaras which go beyond the instinctive aspect of animal consciousness. Even trees and plants have samskaras, but that goes beyond the state of consciousness in which they live and survive.

The literal meaning of samskara is 'uniform personality', 'akara' meaning 'form', 'shape' or 'personality', and 'sam' meaning 'the totality of'. We relate intellectually to everything we perceive in the world as a form or object. That is the external experience, but when we talk about the aspect of consciousness, energy and personality in each object or being, we are talking about the samskara. So, even this tape recorder has a samskara, although it is a mechanical object. It can be classified as an object having a samskara, identity or uniform consciousness. Matter contains energy, energy has movement and within that movement there is some underlying awareness which maintains it in its gravitational field. That is actually what we call samskara.

When we say, 'Oh, I have this samskara in me' meaning 'I like this or that' or 'I want to achieve this but can't due to my samskara', that is only a modification of mind. Samskara are related to karma also. Consciousness was there before you were given birth and it will be there after you die. This consciousness has been given certain impressions which we can call experiences of the deeper self. We become aware of these impressions when we practise deep meditation, not superficial meditation. When we transcend the conscious, subconscious and unconscious experiences of personality it is possible that initially we become aware of certain traumas that have taken place in our early childhood, and of which we did not have any conscious recollection. I will give you an example.

One lady came here some time ago who used to suffer tremendous headaches since very early childhood for no apparent reason. No amount of medication or meditation had helped her. Then one day as she was meditating she had this splitting headache and suddenly she had a vision of herself as a miner in a coal mine in Wales, United Kingdom. The whole mine collapsed on her head and she died. Since re-experiencing that event she did not have a single attack of headache.

Now, this can be classified as a samskara, an impression which the consciousness has carried through several or more lives and the physical manifestation took the form of a headache. We can infer from this that her consciousness had undergone the experience in some previous life, but because of its traumatic effect on her personality, it remained within the folds of consciousness. Then, when that consciousness re-manifested in another body, the same trauma was again expressed by it. So, a human being is not a totally different entity than its experiences in its previous lives.

We can also term many other experiences which we may have had in childhood and about which we have entirely forgotten, as samskaras which have left a very deep impression on our personality. Children whose parents are drug-addicts or who have been divorced very early on have a different mentality because of this samskara.

Samskara has nothing to do with our intellect or buddhi. If we could rationalize our experience and try to clear the mind of it we would not give birth to that samskara again. Clearing the mind is important. If something comes up and you remember it or see it in the form of a vision, that is clearing the samskara. For example you may realize 'I know I have a lot of emotional problems. Previously I was not like this. I know the cause. I had a fight with my wife and we got divorced. Intellectually we cleared things up but emotionally we were not able to clear that experience from our mind'. So this emotional frustration later takes on the form of a samskara and transforms our personality.

If you know the cause of your present malady then you should also try to make sure that your mind is clear in all respects, not only intellectually but also emotionally and psychically. A spiritual aspirant must have this kind of awareness. We should not look at things only from the intellectual standpoint but from the aspect of the total personality. This is what meditation actually teaches.

Although we do begin the meditational practices with technique of self-observation, of observing our thoughts and what we are feeling, these techniques are not limited to this superficial awareness of personality. They go much deeper than that and whenever we meditate we should try to keep the idea or concept in mind, that it deals with the total personality and the purification of an event which has already taken place.

How can we remove negative tendencies such as fear?

According to yogic, Eastern and Western psychology, negative tendencies are a part of our individual personality which must express itself whether we like it or not. So negative states of mind cannot be eradicated completely. The modern psychologist has defined fear in many different ways and there are many different types of tear. Children are afraid of the dark; some people are afraid to travel by aeroplane although it is the safest way of traveling in the world, because they think it can fall down from the sky or be hijacked.

Fear can be caused by insecurity also, or by certain dislike, or our inability to cope with life's difficult situations You may have a boss of whom you are afraid. As soon as you hear that he is calling you, you begin to sweat, your heart begins to palpitate, your blood pressure goes up and you begin to tremble without any real reason. So many types of fear we have to face, but it is possible to develop the state of mind of observing our mental reactions and physiological reactions, and controlling the symptoms. By controlling the symptoms, eventually the tendency can also be controlled. This is where pratyahara comes in.

First of all we must develop the attitude of witnessing everything taking place within us and around us. After we have been able to develop this attitude of witness, observer or 'seer', we can observe how a mental tendency influences our actions, behaviour, and our emotional and intellectual patterns. Then we try to find a rational way of dealing with this disturbance in our personality.

There is one practice called antar mouna which involves observing the thoughts, the emotions, creating them, removing them, developing attention, developing awareness - and this is one of the most effective means of combating any type of destructive disturbance in our personality. And this applies to fear, haired, jealousy, anger, frustration, depression or any negative state of mind.

What should we do when fear comes up during mantra meditation?

It is natural for a mantra to create some activity in the smooth surface of consciousness. A mantra is like a pebble which is thrown into a body of water and creates ripples there, which move out towards the shore. Generally we become aware of these ripples because the shore is our external personality. We do not know where the mantra has fallen in the field of consciousness until we try to develop the ability to follow the ripples back towards the source. But that is another aspect of mantra sadhana.

In the common type of mantra meditation ripples are created and each ripple represents an experience, an activity of consciousness. So a wave comes and then gradually subsides, but at the time of coming it makes us aware of its intensity, or its force which may contain a joyous experience or a fearful and negative one. For fear is as much a part of life as joy and happiness and to get through it we have to bring in the concept of 'drashta', the seer.

As long as we identity with the body and mind we shall have fear concerning the body and mind. However, with the attitude of witness, we go through the experience but one part of us remains separate, observing what the body and mind are undergoing. When fear comes up on the mental level then we also experience other negative states which are associated with fear - anxiety, depression, frustration and so forth.

If the fear is deep or psychic and cannot be explained rationally or intellectually then that creates another kind of reaction- uncertainty in life, a state similar to madness. It shakes the basic foundation of our being. So, if at that time, one part of us is observing, then this drashta awareness will find a way to effectively deal with the emotions coming up from deep within.

At the time of mantra meditation a mala is therefore very important. The mala does not allow an individual to become completely submerged in the unknown depths of consciousness. It maintains one part of the awareness outside, on the process of moving and reversing. This counting of the beads and the turning of the mala forms a break in the pattern and depth of our concentration so that we maintain external, conscious awareness.

In this context a symbol is also necessary which is given along with the mantra. The concept of symbol can be explained in the following way, 'A bird is flying over the ocean and it cannot find anywhere to rest because everywhere there is a body of water. Suddenly the bird sees a piece of floating driftwood. It alights on the wood, rests for some time, and then again begins to search for land, but it keeps the piece of wood as a reference point or marker to come back to and rest until it finds dry land. This piece of wood is the symbol that we use in our mantra meditation.

Through mantra we are going deeper and deeper and deeper, through the mala we are maintaining the drashta awareness, and through the symbol we are fixing a reference point in the field of our consciousness where we can come and experience the vastness of the ocean, and at the same time rest without having to come out from the meditative state. So just observe the state of fear when it arises and it will be like a wave upon the ocean- it will conic and then go away, ebb and flow, and finally it will be gone forever.

How can we develop willpower if we do not have enough willpower to do the sadhana to develop it? Is there any staple yet systematic approach we can take?

Slow and steady wins the race. Development of willpower takes time, because we first have to get used to all the eccentricities of our mind and personality. Willpower is a state of mind which is one-pointed, awake and alert. Dissipated states of mind are known as 'vichit', unbalanced. When you have a balanced mind, willpower will open up from within, without you having to try. You do not have to make a conscious effort.

If you decide to do your sadhana, whether it is asana, pranayama or meditation, it is not necessary for you to start with one hour of practice every day. Begin with ten minutes and increase every week by one minute, two minutes, five minutes, over a period of several months. Increase to half an hour and leave it at that. Within this thirty-minute period outline a program of say, ten minutes asana, five minutes pranayama, fifteen minutes meditation - no more and no less, and you will find this will be enough.

When you want to attain something, you only have to do the specific sadhana which will help you attain your goal. If you can pursue this sadhana regularly and religiously, making it your firm daily habit, you will find that over a period of time, you will have enough willpower to take up any other sadhana. It is just a process of habituation.

Where do doubts come from and how do we cope with them?

The tendency of the mind is to look for some kind of proof. While sitting here we are not aware of clouds up in the sky, but because a shadow passes over the sun we guess that a cloud has come. That is 'anuman' or 'inference'. If we go outside and see that a cloud has actually come, it becomes a living proof. The cognitive faculty, the knowledge or understanding that clouds have come, is known as 'pramana'.

Pramana need not be something concrete; it need not be something which we are able to grasp intellectually, because the mind functions on many levels, the vibratory level being one. Here we may not see anything but when we come before someone or visit a certain place, we feel 'good' and our level of vitality increases. Or vice versa, we feel 'down' and suddenly there is a depletion of energy. We are experiencing something physically but we cannot pinpoint its cause. For example, we may see the shadow but not the cloud, so it is happening on a vibratory, intellectual, and many other levels as well.

When such proofs which direct the mental faculties of perception and cognition are absent from the situation, it will give rise to doubt which will convert itself into the vritti of vikalpa - 'Is it or is it not?' 'To be or not to be?' That becomes the state of vikalpa. So absence of a firm guideline for the mental faculties is, according to yogic principles, the cause of doubt. And how do we cope with it? As we have done up until now. How does one remove doubt? By intensifying the vritti of pramana.

So, we make ourselves receptive to whatever experiences we are undergoing on the intellectual and vibratory levels and find this is causing some doubt or confusion within us. Now, instead of getting attached or involved in this feeling of doubt we must try to rationalize it through the process of gyana yoga: 'Why has this happened? Let me just find out where something has not clicked in my mind'. I may doubt someone: 'Is he truthful to me or not?' I have had good relations with him throughout my life but one incident changed my mind because I found him telling me maybe just one lie. From that moment onwards whenever I come in front of him I feel this nagging inside me: 'Is he telling me the truth? Is he hiding something from me?'

What was the cause of that feeling? From where did that doubt generate? Go to the cause. It is like the practice of pratyahara, and more specifically of antar mouna where we follow the train of thoughts back to the source. We may think one thing externally but the cause may be something absolutely different. In this process the thought undergoes many alterations. Many different views, ideas, desires and feelings come and totally change the shape of the original thought.

Just as we practise observation of thoughts in antar mouna, in the same way we utilize these techniques when we observe our doubts, I doubt something. Okay, first I classify that as an intellectual, vibratory or emotional awareness. I might see a house - dark and dreary. Someone tells me, 'Go in', and gives a very funny grin on the side. The idea comes to me 'Why does he want me to go in? There must be something there.' It could be my own fear projecting which has converted itself into a doubt- fear of the unknown, but something is there. It converted itself into doubt against that person because I saw him smile in a particular way. So I became cautious.

Or I find that my family members have told me a lie and I think, 'Why have they said this to me? Because they don't trust me fully? They don't have full confidence in me? Maybe there is some fault within me.' Or again, I reach a place. I feel good or perhaps bad. Suddenly there is a rise or drop in my energy level and I am unable to ascertain the actual cause. So I go back in time. What were the events which brought me to this place?

It is just like the practice of antar mouna and antar mouna is not practised with thoughts alone. It is practised with every kind of mental experience of the vrittis. The actual practice of antar mouna is the elimination of conflicting and contradictory tendencies from the normal behaviour of the vrittis, and not 'inner silence' - stopping the thoughts and remaining at peace.

Is all suffering and negativity due to bad karma?

Not necessarily. First understand that karmas are not 'good' or 'bad' as such. They are impressions which control and govern our lives from the time of our birth to the time of our death. The concept of 'good' and 'bad' karma comes at a much later stage when we have developed our buddhi and have begun to analyse 'what is happening?', 'what do I really want?', 'what should happen?', but even in the process of analysing, please remember that we should try to understand our karmas through the vrittis, or through the vritti which is most predominant.

If one tries to understand karma from the tamasic frame of mind, the understanding will be tamasic and the experience of the karma will be tamasic. Similarly, if one tries to understand the karma from the sattvic state of mind then the understanding and manifestation of the karma will be sattwic. This is one important factor in trying to understand karma. So karmas are not negative or positive; they are simply the formation which is contained in the field of consciousness and which shape our destiny, our life and the direction in which we will go.

The actual cause of suffering is our own ignorance, to be very frank, because through ignorance we create imbalances in the body and then we suffer from physical illness. When we create mind imbalances then we create mental problems, and when we create imbalance in the psychic structure then we face psychic problems. So, lack of understanding of the body-mind-spirit complex is the main cause of any suffering. Due to ignorance we attribute our suffering to karma, to something 'bad' we might have done in a past life.

Yoga does not believe that there is any suffering which is pre-destined. For example, someone may have emotional problem and an inability to adjust to life. They might have had a divorce or fights at home. Is that because of bad karma or because of the inability to communicate, to express and understand each other properly? The inability to communicate, to understand, or to accept or change the situation has nothing to do with any kind of karma.

So, please do not confuse karma with suffering because happiness and sadness are only experiences of the external mind, the mind which is in contact with the other manifest realities, and not the experience of the subtle mind which is beyond the three gunas. They are the experiences of the mind which is confined to the experiences of the elements, the tattwas, and not of the mind which is beyond the experience of the elements.

How do we overcome ambition and expectation in spiritual life? For example, striving to advance spiritually because of the desired outcome?

By first realising that it is a big mistake, because if you desire to achieve something due to the outcome being 'good' it is not a proper sign of spirituality. In spirituality you should expect the unexpected. Whether you classify that as something 'good' or 'bad' comes later on, but by expecting the unexpected you will always be ready and alert to understand and to process the experiences which you have.

When we meditate and see heaven, angels and gods, we like it and wish to have the same experience in every other meditation. If we do not get it, the normal tendency is to think that we are not progressing. Because something 'clicked' with our liking we want it more and more, but if during meditation we see hell, demons and all types of pain and misery, would we wish for the same experience again? Rather, we would try to avoid meditating for the very reason that we may again see the same thing.

I think this is a very topsy-turvy view of life. If we meditate in order to experience something we like, we may as well not do it, but if we meditate with an open mind, to purge the mind from every type of positive and negative experience, then we should do it. Having the desire to attain is a 'no-no' in yoga. Of course, the desire to improve our lives is always there: 'I want to attain something high up', but the moment we begin to identify that 'high up' object with an experience we are having, it is a mistake. One man came to Lord Buddha and said. 'What can I do in order to realise God?' Buddha replied, 'Leave that desire'. The moment you can do that you will find that you are not different from him, because every experience we have in life, and everything we want to achieve in spiritual life is contained within the human personality. Realisation of this can totally alter human perception and action.

So, do not expect anything and just keep at it. Whether we are progressing or not is not for us to decide, because the process of 'mind-cleansing' or 'purging' can take a very long time. We should have just one realisation - I am going on the right path. I am following the correct procedure of pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and whatever the experiences may be, let them come. Do not expect anything but have the realisation, 'I am on the right track'.