Mind – Master, Servant or Friend? (Part 1)

Swami Vigyanchaitanya Saraswati

Awareness of the need for mind management

As spiritual aspirants we start on the path of spiritual life with a set of practices which give us some experience and take us forward on the path. But we soon find that progress is not easy, whatever practice we add does not seem to help and there is quite often a fallback. Therein lies one of the greatest truths on the path of self-realization: that without making a substantial lifestyle adjustment, spiritual progress is blocked. Swami Satyananda says, “One needs to have a deeper experience and in order to have that experience one must adjust many items related to one’s life – and that is yogic life.”

What is this adjustment? The main thrust is of course related to the mind. All actions proceed from the mind. The desires give rise to a ‘sankalpa’, which is then carried out by the indriyas (organs of action). So the mind has to be managed and cleaned. This is quite a long process that requires patience and perseverance, and people drop out on the way.

We find ourselves in a contradictory situation – we want to have experience of a higher state, yet we try to do this by ‘fitting in’ some spiritual practices along with our worldly material pursuits. An average person’s spiritual goal is not the primary aim in life, but is subordinated to worldly, material goals. He cannot forgo the comforts or the attachments he has built up assiduously over the years. In his efforts he does not follow moderation, but swings from asceticism to indulgence, pessimism to optimism. If both goals are there, there is an inherent conflict in the mind and the process of managing the mind just cannot start. Mind management cannot begin unless we take that decision of total transformation. There has to be only one goal in life – that of self-realization. You want self-realization, but when you get that realization, you will not be the person you are now. That ‘you’ will not be recognizable as the present you at all. However, we cannot have that experience unless we clean our minds and transform ourselves totally.

De-identifying with the experiences of the mind

Our usual experience is of the ‘I’ mixed up with the mental experience and there is total identification or drashtri drishya samyoga (conjunction between the seer and the seen) (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, 2:17). That is how the experience becomes, “I am angry, I am upset, I am happy, I am hungry,” and there is total identification with the experiences of the mind or the mental fluctuations: vritti saroopyam itaratra (Yoga Sutras, 1:4). After doing the basic yoga practices and living in an ashram environment for some time, we realize that ‘I’ and the mind are two different aspects of our existence. We realize that the mind is out of our control and full of stuff we have been putting into it.

The mind is perhaps the most perfect recording machine; it records instantaneously any experience the moment it is taking place. However, when the mind is going to play back its recordings is not in our hands, it happens by itself! What is the character or the personality of a person? It is but the sum total of these impressions. These impressions reinforce each other and form ruts or grooves in the mind which manifest as a person’s tendencies. We tend to act and react in a similar way and become bound by this conditioning. In this way the mind of an ordinary person becomes chaotic and quite out of control. So we have to be careful about which impressions the mind is subject to, because they are the ones which will be played back without warning! We have built up ruts of losing our temper, getting upset, dislike, like, fear, etc., and ‘I’ is always attached to these expressions of the mind. The ego becomes attached to a sensory experience and creates what are known as kleshas or afflictions.

Resolving to clean the mind

So first one has to come to the point of realization that “I need to clean my mind.” However, in a paradox of human existence, instead we keep on commenting on the state of the world and other people and not paying any attention to the state of our own mind! That is maya, which has made the mind and senses of an outgoing nature. It really is a wonder that we keep on searching for freedom outside. We seek to make our nation, our workplace and our home free, but we ourselves reel under the tyranny of the mind. We are constantly dictated to by desires, memories of the past and plans for the future, and swing in a pendulum of happiness and sorrow. Only a few people become aware of this and decide to do something about it, and they are the spiritual aspirants. Why is this? Because we have not had spiritual contacts. We have not had contact or satsang with a saint who has a clean mind and who can give us that impetus for total transformation. It is time we let the world be as it is and took up in earnest the task of changing not the world, but ourselves.

Purifying the mind

The path of raja yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras gives the practice of mental purity or shaucha as one of the niyamas. The different effects of the practice of mental cleanliness are said to be purification of sattwa (sattwa shuddhi), clarity of mind (saumanasya), one-pointedness (ekagrya), total control over the senses (indriya jaya), and self-realization (atmadarshan) (1:41). Keeping the mind clean is a practice that can be systematized and developed fully as a total psychology.

The first effect of the practice of mental purity is purification of sattwa. Presently the mind is dominated by tamasic and rajasic qualities, including anger, lust, greed, animosity, and ego driven complexes of all kinds. The qualities of sattwa are universal love, compassion, humility, contentment, etc. These qualities are inherent and always there, but they are more subtle and pure, and cannot manifest unless a basic cleaning is done. We have to root out the negative qualities ourselves. Nobody can help us in this process – it is totally dependent on us.

Techniques for mental purification

The techniques to be discussed are just some of the methods which can be an integral part of any sadhana.

Pratyahara: Lord Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad Gita that just as the wind causes a boat to lose its stability, similarly the mind loses its balance because of sensory interactions. The daily sensory interactions create a lot of background clutter and dirt at the mental level. We have so many interactions throughout the day and night and these leave behind their impressions, which are not always positive. So there has to be a regular daily cleaning. Unless this is done, the mind will be out of control and full of accumulations which serve no purpose and increase our karmic bondage. This daily cleaning of the mind is done through the various techniques of pratyahara. Pratyahara gives us the method of disconnecting the mind from the senses, freeing the mind from the grip of the senses. Any of the techniques of pratyahara such as yoga nidra, ajapa japa or antar mouna need to be done daily, especially near the end of the day.

Further techniques for mental purification will be discussed in Part 2