The Mature Mind

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Yoga is a continuous process of development and cannot be learnt in a couple of years, but once you have practised, studied and understood yoga, you will find that your daily moments become filled with yogic awareness. Yoga is not only asana and pranayama; it is an attitude, an awareness of your interaction with life and the ability to ensure smooth passage through moments of difficulty. Therefore, yoga is an ongoing process of education.

Education is not just an intellectual process or achievement. Rather, education plays a very vital part in the maturing of the human mind and consciousness. Maturity of mind and consciousness is the aim of education and is reflected in the ability to apply in practise the knowledge that you have gained intellectually. Knowledge is one thing and application is another. Knowledge without application is merely an intellectual achievement, but when you begin to apply what you know, then the process of maturity of consciousness begins. When you are able to maintain your balance, harmony and peace in day to day situations – that is maturity of mind.

The mind is the agent that is interacting with the world through the senses day in and day out. Whatever interacts with the world through the senses subjects itself to the pulls of opposites, raga and dwesha – attraction and repulsion. It is the mismanagement of attraction and repulsion which creates problems in life. If we are attracted to something, it is we who are attracted, but we then expect the other person or thing to reciprocate, and when that doesn’t happen, attraction leads to frustration. Repulsion is the opposite reaction, whereby we try to repel things that continue to come to us no matter how much we try to avoid them, creating another cause of tension, anxiety. Through this mental disturbance, our balance is lost.

Managing the vrittis

In yoga, this loss of balance is known as being subjected to the pulls of the vrittis. There comes a time when the mind becomes hyper and so obsessed with thinking about something that it is not able to extract itself from the experience. Whether the object of fixation relates to thoughts about profession, family, security, or desire, it becomes so overpowering that we find it hard to move the mind away from it. Many times it may keep you awake at night and you pace around the room, thinking, “Why can’t I sleep? This is so unnecessary, I can think about it tomorrow.” You walk around the room, you turn on the TV, you read a book, you are exhausted, but the moment you try to sleep, again the same thing comes up. You are unable to rest and the mind is persistently thinking that obsessive thought. That is known as vritti, the pull of the mind.

Sometimes there is a cause underlying this obsessive tendency which can be understood. Sometimes the cause cannot be seen; it is too deep in the subconscious or unconscious mind. We may not know the cause of the obsession, yet we suffer the consequence. For help we go to a psychoanalyst, psychologist, counsellor or psychiatrist. They allow us to talk and talk, and they simply listen and try to discover a pattern which can lead them to the cause of the worry that is inside.

However, if we live the yogic attitude and awareness, we are able to witness and then realign our own patterns of energy. We learn to manage the mental and emotional energies. In practical life, that is the achievement of yoga. This management of the vrittis is yoga chitta vritti nirodhah, which is a big achievement indicating maturity of mind. The process which allows you to continuously develop your inherent faculties, to live and express them in a spontaneous manner while being yourself, is the development of consciousness. This is our real education and this is the yogic process of evolution towards maturity.

Ego identification

If we look at ourselves, we will find that we always like to hide behind identities. “Who are you?” – “I am a professor.” “I am a doctor.” “I am an engineer.” But that is a professional identity, not a personal identity. The identity being created and projected externally to the world is a superficial persona. It is merely a mask that we put on to show society or to hide behind. The purpose of such a front is to project ourselves as something better or more socially acceptable. We always think the front is a superior version of what we feel ourselves to be. In yogic terminology, this clinging to the mask, or the false presentation of oneself to the outside world, is known as ego-identification. This continuous ego-identification completely changes our inner balance and peace, and eventually leads to its destruction. But yoga becomes a process in which we realise that ego-identification and also know that it is harming us.


If we want to become truly natural and spontaneous, all pretences have to go. Purification of the ego, ridding ourselves of the pretences and masks is a trial by fire. Fire signifies a process of sadhana, tapasya, austerity, an effort resulting in the development of willpower and determination. Through these processes of discipline, we can remove the mask and emerge pure and triumphant like Sita when she came out of the fire.

This story about Rama and Sita is not commonly known. When Rama knew that the great war was imminent, he said to Sita, “Look, now it is time for you to disappear and I will hide you in the fire. What will be with me will actually be your shadow Sita, not the real you but your duplicate.” Rama hid Sita in the fire and thus ensured that the Sita who was kidnapped was only her shadow. He had to play his role to fulfil his duties by fighting the demons in order to bring peace and order to the world.

After the war was over and Ravana was killed, Rama played another trick in front of his army. In order to bring out the real Sita, he said to Vibhishana, the new king of Lanka, “I am not going to enter the city. Send Sita to my camp.” So the shadow Sita came to Rama, who said very harshly, “Now that I have fulfilled all the duties of a warrior and you are free, you can go wherever you wish.”

Everybody hearing Rama’s words, including the entire army, was completely shocked, crying, “What! Rama is not accepting Sita? Why not?” Rama said, “You have to prove your purity.” Sita’s shadow, of course, knew exactly what Rama was doing and she played along. She said, “How can I prove my purity to you?” Rama said, “Jump in the fire.” So the fire was lit, Sita’s double entered the fire, and the real Sita came out. Then Rama said, “You are pure, come and sit beside me.”

It was not the true Sita who was kidnapped and eventually liberated, but only an illusion, and on the battlefield the shadow Sita was destroyed. Just as Sita went through the test of fire, for our real selves to emerge, we also have to undergo a process of discipline and training. And if the real you emerges, that will be the crowning glory of yoga in your life.

The emergence of peace

Only when we become pretence-free does peace comes into our life. Otherwise meditation will not give us peace. It might give momentary relief, like cool water in the middle of summer, but if we practise our meditation or yoga and yet do not let go of our pretences, then whatever experiences we have can only be temporary. They do not become part of our understanding and experience of everyday life, but remain separate. When all the pretences are removed and we become who we really are, the natural self, then we don’t need to practise meditation. Meditation becomes part of our attitude, and that causes the dawn of peace in our life. The emergence of inner peace enables us to feel harmony with nature at the outer level also.

We are always worried about our limited relationships with our fellow beings: children, husband, wife, friends, society, but these relationships are very self-oriented. We have a much bigger relationship with the divine spirit and the transcendental nature. If we can really see this, and appreciate and acknowledge this relationship which we as individuals all share with the entire universe, with nature, with the transcendental reality called God, then our life becomes fulfilled. We connect with that source of strength and care and the force of optimism. Then we can devote ourselves to uplifting others through wisdom, applying our knowledge in behaviour and attitude, and in that way help to fulfil the vision of the ancient seers.

Ganga Darshan, May 2004

What is the difference between self-awareness and self-realisation? How can a person transcend self-awareness into self-realisation? What is the relationship between ego and self-awareness?

There is one mind, but this mind has two different states of experience – manifest and transcendental. The manifest is dark, the transcendental is luminous, like night and day. At night when we turn off the lights, what can we see in the darkness? The world continues to exist, but it is all merged and hidden in blackness. If we shine a torchlight, it illumes a small area and we are again able to distinguish shapes and colours. Otherwise we can’t see any colours in the darkness. Once the night goes away and the sun comes out, we don’t just see an isolated area illumined by the light of a torch, instead we can see right up to the horizon. That is expanded vision; there is no absence of light.

This is the difference between self-awareness and self-realisation. Self-awareness is the light of the torch illuminating different pockets of darkness. This awareness fluctuates, it is not in control. The drashta, the witness, is there, but it does not have any influence over our actions and reactions. We work with this fluctuating awareness to make it firm, but it remains confined to one individual illuminated area. However, with self-realization we can see right up to the horizon in total daylight. Self-realization is where our vision is expanded, where our consciousness becomes that expanded experience and is not confined to an individual torchlight.

Ganga Darshan, June 2003

Who is the drashta?

In each one of us here is a person observing what the body and the mind are doing. This person is neither male nor female, it is the consciousness known as chitta. Our training is total involvement with the senses, and with this kind of training it is not possible to become aware of the drashta, the witness. To become the drashta, to know the aspect of yourself which is the observer, you have to retrain yourself completely. The process of retraining is defined by yoga as control of the modifications of the mind, chitta vritti nirodhah. Only when the vrittis are contained can one identify or realise the drashta.

The drashta, the observer, is not the part of yourself which says, “I will watch what I am doing.” There are two factors. One is the mind, which also has the ability to observe, to become a witness. The other is the drashta, the inner mind. When we are doing our meditation, we tell ourselves we are going to observe our thoughts, the interaction of the senses, what is happening in our body and mind. Here we are using the ability of the mind to observe itself. This is the initial stage of awareness, and most people are at this level. But the real drashta does not live in the mind.

The real drashta is the spirit. This can be explained in the following way. You have a car, which is the body; there is a driver, which is the mind, and a passenger, which is the spirit. The passenger does not drive the car. The car cannot move without the driver. The mind drives the body and is responsible for applying the gears, brake, accelerator, clutch and steering wheel. If the driver says, “I will become aware of the driving,” then it is the mind saying, “I will become aware of myself.” That is one level of drashta. This level of drashta stays with you till you reach dharana.

After you have gone beyond pratyahara and dharana, then the real drashta emerges in dhyana and in samadhi. Then you can say the passenger is aware that the car is moving and that the driver is now applying the brakes etc. So the aware passenger becomes the witness of everything that is happening and the passenger also becomes the guide for the driver.

Generally, when you take a taxi, you give the address to the driver, but you have no idea of the route. The driver can take you there the short way or the long way. That is your situation now. You tell your mind, “Look, this is the address I want to go to, take me there.” The mind takes you either the short way or the long way. Sometimes the route is very long and you spend your life wandering through a maze. Sometimes the route is very short and suddenly you realise that you are there. In normal life, it is the mind which takes the lead. Beyond dharana, in dhyana and samadhi, the passenger says, “I know that you are taking me by the long route, but my desire is to go by the short route. I know the route. We’s go this way.” That is the real drashta, the spirit.

Ganga Darshan, December 1999