How can we eliminate negative thinking?
Thinking badly about one's own self is a normal behaviour of the mind and talking and thinking badly about others is an expression of that mental behaviour. If you have a bad smell in the body, that is your bad smell, but it is projected outside and others can smell it. In the same way, if you are thinking negatively, your thoughts are projected outside in the form of criticism. So both these phenomena are interrelated.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it is said that the most important thing is peace of mind. When you think badly about others your mind is not at peace, and if you don't have peace of mind, then you can't have good meditation. You may have good concentration in meditation, but at the bottom the tempest is blowing, and it can blow out the light at any moment.
In order to attain peace of mind you must have the attitude of friendship for people who are happy and you must have compassion for those who are unhappy. You must be pleased with people who are virtuous and you should ignore those who are vicious. These are the four attitudes you should try to develop when you are dealing with the four different types of people.
When we see people who are very happy and prosperous in their lives, we are usually jealous of them. That is the natural reaction. However, according to yoga you should make them your friends. If you are a rich person, a great scholar or a renowned person, or if you are happy in every respect with good children, husband or wife, I should not be jealous of you. If I am jealous, then my peace of mind is destroyed. I should make you my friend so that your happiness becomes my happiness. That is point one.
There are many people in the world who are very unhappy. If we see that someone we don't like is facing sickness, poverty, pain or grief, we are very happy. We say, "That's right, he deserved it." When you think like this you are disturbing your own mind, and then your meditation will be affected. The correct attitude is one of compassion. Of course you know he is a bad person, but after all he is very unhappy. That is called compassion. That is point two.
There are many people who are virtuous. They help others, they are philanthropic and they give a lot in charity. What we usually say is, "It's not genuine, he's just doing all this to impress or show up others." Or we say, "He has earned this money through bad means and now he is trying to give it away in charity." By saying or thinking this, you are disturbing the base of your mind and it will affect your meditation. The right attitude is that you should be happy in your heart that he is doing good work. He is helping this institution or that mission; he is very generous and charitable; he is making proper use of his money. If you think like this, you will be happy and that will boost your meditation. That is point three.
When you see a debauched man, a criminal or a thief, you say, "He is a very bad man. Don't go near him." In any congregation, there is usually one person who talks badly about others day in and day out. This person always becomes very unhappy and quite abnormal, almost to the point of mental crisis. Maybe a person is bad, but if you keep on talking ill about him you are only making matters worse for yourself. If he is bad it does not concern you. You should ignore him, that is the right attitude. That is point four.
In order to attain peace of mind, your attitudes must be correct. I will give you an example of a person I knew who put these attitudes into practice throughout his life. I lived with this person for many years; he is my guru, Swami Sivananda. He used to serve anyone who criticized, harmed or offended him just like a mother serves her child. He used to treat those people better than he treated his own disciples.
Some of us were very good disciples who were completely devoted to him, but he did not care for us very much. But any disciples who were not up to standard were given special attention. He used to send coffee to their room. Any time fruit came to the ashram, they were the first to receive it, and whenever distribution of clothing took place their names were first on the list. If there was a congregation or satsang in the ashram, they were always given a special place. And this is how he behaved all the time.
However, there are many people who do not change even if you treat them exceptionally well. Once we pointed this out to Swami Sivananda because there was a disciple who was, in spite of Swamiji's behaviour, persistent in his evil actions. We said, "Your attitude to evil disciples is definitely good, but if they don't want to change, why don't you teach them a lesson?" He said, "No." Then he narrated the following parable.
Once a very good-natured person was taking a bath in the Ganges when he noticed a scorpion being swept along by the water. In order to save the scorpion, the man picked it up and held it in his hand. The scorpion bit the man, but he still continued to hold it. Again it bit him. A man who was witnessing this whole game asked the good man, "Why don't you leave that scorpion to die?" Do you know what his reply was? "When a scorpion does not give up his nature, why should I give up mine?"
So, if you want to eliminate negative thoughts, your whole nature must be changed. By attending satsangs you can transform your nature greatly, and this is most important. Satsang means association with people where positive things are being practised. You may be singing together or studying yoga together. You may be reading the scriptures or discussing the problems of day to day life. This is called satsang, and after it you start thinking very positively.
The opposite of satsang is kusang. Ku means bad, evil, negative or devilish, and sang means association. When you are in association with negative people or ideas, that is called kusang. So, in order to purify the human nature, the most important sadhana is satsang. If we cannot hold a satsang ourselves, then we can read a positive and inspiring book. When I was a student I frequently read a marvellous book called Imitation of Christ by Thomas a'Kempis. Every time I read it I obtained some new light.
In the same manner, Swami Sivananda has also written some wonderful books on human nature which can help you to restructure your whole nature. He wrote a fantastic book called Mind - Its Mysteries and Control. When you read that book you can see your own self as though you were looking at a mirror. Unless you can see yourself, how can you correct yourself? In order to transform your nature you have to see yourself naked, you have to have an absolute vision of your entire personality. Besides this, you have to practise and develop certain basic virtues.
Zinal, Switzerland, September 1980
What are the dangers of meditation?
There is danger in anything you do the wrong way. If you do not know how to cook, you will burn your fingers. If you suppress yourself and if you are too obsessed with your mental personality, then your meditation will not succeed.
When you meditate, let your thoughts come out. Do not try to concentrate very hard. In this way, if you go on in the path of meditation, scientifically and systematically, there is no danger. Of course there are people who try to practise meditation and give up the practice after some time because they find that the more they meditate the more they express their negative tendencies.
One of my disciples said that before meditation he was pure and after meditating his mind was filled with filth, and therefore he preferred not to meditate. I told him, "You were feeling all right because you were constipated. But last night you took fruit salts and this morning you are purging. So you are complaining that the food was bad because you are purging in the morning. This purging, my dear, was necessary. If you had continued with constipation, then you would have developed many other ailments and complaints. Now that you have started purging, please continue, don't stop it."
In the same way, when you sit for meditation you are closer to your entire self. Then you can listen to the tumult and vagaries of your mind, then you can perceive the behaviour, character and personality of your mind. When you are not in meditation you are extrovert, you are aware of the sense objects. You are far from yourself, and since you are far from yourself you do not see yourself, you do not know what is inside.
That is the reason why when you do not meditate you do not face yourself, you do not face your personality, but when you begin to meditate, to do mantra, to look within, then you become more and more aware of the tendencies of your mind. They may be horrible or filthy, they may be anything, but I prefer to say that the closer you come to yourself, the more you begin to witness the movements of the consciousness in the realm of evolution.
In the same way as a snake sheds its skin, we also shed our skin, but for that the proper time has to come. We have always lived in a world of glorious idealism because of our skins. The elders of our family wanted us to behave in a particular way because that was necessary to maintain their social or national vanity. They wanted us to live a particular life and for that they created - this is good, that is bad; this is right, that is wrong. And they kept on changing the values according to the changes that took place in the cultural or political context. However, you have to be guided by realities, and the reality is within yourself.
There is no danger in meditation. If you can't concentrate, it doesn't matter. You can practise hatha yoga and develop the capacity to sit in one yogic posture for one hour, two hours, three hours. Padmasana (lotus posture) and siddhasana (adept's posture) are the two postures best suited to meditation. In the morning or at night sit down in the corner in your lotus posture, with the hands in either jnana mudra or chin mudra. Close your eyes. Fix the gaze at the nose tip, mid-eyebrow centre, heart centre, navel centre or anywhere. Sit upright and straight.
Practise your mantra or concentrate on the inner sound - nada yoga, or concentrate on your breath, or sing a song for one hour. Allow the mind to do what it likes. Let it keep on thinking, building castles in the air, exposing fear. If you want to think of a man or a girl, go on. If you want to think about how to earn money, millions, billions, trillions, do it! If you want to become the prime minister of Australia or the secretary of the United Nations, if you want to destroy Russia or America, if you want to make the whole world Protestant or Catholic, or if you want to break into houses or banks and take all the money, go ahead and think about it. Sit for one hour, try for two hours, and weekly, monthly or periodically try to extend the time so that eventually you can sit for three hours.
Then one fine day all these energies will unite with the central energy and suddenly, like Buddha, like Christ, like any other sage, you will find things are melting and everything is happening by itself. You will not know what to do. You will not be required to know what to do, you won't have to think, "Now what am I to do?" It is as if you have been thrown into the upper portion of Niagara Falls and you don't know what will happen next. You are just moving along with the flow of consciousness, you can do nothing else, you have to become a part of that event. Therefore, there is no danger in meditation. Sit down properly - Om Namah Shivaya ... Om Namah Shivaya ... Om Namah Shivaya ... You begin to think about your job ... Om Namah Shivaya ... Oh my mind is so restless, I'd better do some pranayama. No, I am too tired ... Okay. My God, Thou art in heaven.
You see, this is what you have been doing all the while, wrestling with yourself, with your mind. Who is controlling whom? You are fighting with yourself. The right hand is pulling the left hand, the left hand is pulling the right. The entire atmosphere of antagonism is self-created. You are creating a split in your own mind. One part of the mind is fighting with another part of the mind. One tendency of the mind is fighting with another tendency of the same mind.
You are slapping yourself, you are kicking yourself, you are suiciding yourself. Therefore, from today, whenever you sit for meditation say to yourself, "Mind, do what you like, I'm not going to stir for one hour." This is called regularity in meditation. Such a person will not come across any danger. But if you keep on fighting with the mind in meditation, some of you might have some mental problems.
Rocklyn, Australia, January 1984