16th July 2011
The witty and plain speaking Indian monk: Swami Suddhananda
Following on from my previous blog post, here is the extract from Swami Suddhananda's book, Self-Knowledge: A Path to the Pathless (Indian edition priced at less than $2, well worth purchasing). If you want to join the Facebook group I created for Suddhananda, here is the link. (I had also posted some thoughts on Suddhananda here).
Disciplining the mind
‘Manonigrahah’ or disciplining the mind means to be constantly aware of your thoughts and never to come under the spell of it. You should never destroy the capacity of your mind to think. Your mind has a tremendous capacity to do wonders with your thoughts. So, do not be afraid of thoughts. Without thoughts and without using the ability to think, there would have been no progress in the world. Today if we are enjoying certain comforts like air-conditioner, microphones, amplifiers, limousines etc, it is because people have used their thoughts and their thinking capacity. These wonders of science have not been discovered by a man sitting in the darkness of a cave. It is the achievement of men who have put to use their thought power.
In the same way, the Vedas, Upanisads and all the great literature of ancient times were not produced by `thought-less’ men. Those are the records of thinking, enlightened, brilliant minds. Even if you consider them to be the revelations of God, again, they are the thoughts of God. So never entertain the idea that you should enjoy a mind that is bereft of thoughts. It is not thinking that creates a problem for you; it is wrong thinking that creates the problems. Just think over whether it is your thoughts or your reaction to thoughts that creates the problem.
Take any object: does it create any problem for you? In the object itself, there is no pain or pleasure. So, there cannot be any pain or pleasure in the thought of the object because the thought is only a picture of the object within you. Suppose you take a photograph of a person who is beautiful, the photograph will appear true to its image. The photograph will be exactly like the object. So if in the object there is no pain or pleasure, the thought which is the photograph of the object, too will not have any pain or pleasure, likes or dislikes in it.
The memories which are nothing but thoughts are like photographs filed in your personal album. You can recall what had happened ten years ago. The moment someone mentions “Mahabalipuram”, a picture appears in your mind – pleasant memories of the time you visited that place. So the thoughts, memories being just photographs of objects, situations, experiences, cannot cause problems. ‘You’ create the problems. ‘You’ feel that you should not think of this or that and you arrogate that responsibility of ‘thinking’ to yourself. So you feel miserable because all the time you are thinking of things that you do not want to think about.
This is how people destroy themselves in the name of religion. They undertake fasting or torturing themselves in different ways by denial, austerities and negation to achieve control of the mind. So the religion appears to be an embodiment of negativity. Religion has come to mean austerity, total renunciation and denial which the average man is not able to identify with. The one who is more austere is considered more religious. One man says, “I have written Ram Nam one hundred thousand times”. When did he do this, you ask. He says he wrote it everyday in the office! He is supposed to be doing the work for his employers while at the office and that is what he is paid for. He takes the money from his employer but wastes his time writing Ram Nam. Instead of feeling bad that he is not doing justice to his employer, he considers himself very religious and holy! The person wants to establish that he is holier than others.
If you interpret control of mind as stopping the mind from thinking, that thought, that interpretation needs to be controlled! If you say, “My mind never thinks”, there is nothing glorious about it. Without thinking all the progress that we see in the world today would not have been possible. People have a wrong notion that if they are quiet they are happy. They do not understand that being quiet is in fact, inactivity, a sign of laziness, slothfulness. People equate mental inactivity and the incapacity to think with the quiet, serene silence of the Absolute Ambition to earn money, to reach high positions, to succeed in life, are all condemned as ‘materialism’. So people shun the very effort to achieve them. Yet deep down in their hearts they have great value for money, power, position and they look up to people who have achieved all these in their lives. In the name of religion, they think they are practising simplicity and consider themselves as religious. They actually destroy themselves, deceive themselves first before they deceive others.
Suppose you ask somebody to paint the picture of a wise man, will anyone paint the picture of a man dressed in the best suit, smartly dressed and seated in a chauffer driven car? No. A wise man is supposed to be like a skeleton, with matted hair, seated crossed legs, with eyes closed, wearing dirty clothes or rags. This is the picture that one would paint of a wise man. You forget that Krishna and Rama were princes and had the touch of class. They had the best life styles. Or, think of Yagnavalkya or Vasishta, who had Kamadenu, the cow from whom he got everything he wanted in life. It is a pity that the whole tradition now seems to be emphasising denial, renunciation and austerity. The religion stresses so much on austerity, negation, denial, etc that everybody is afraid to come to religion. All this has come about because of the wrong interpretation that control of the mind means absence of thoughts.
It is like having a car which can reach a speed of 150 miles per hour. When you are learning to drive, you will be afraid even when the speedometer touches 50 miles per hour. Do you destroy the engine just because you are afraid to go at higher speeds? No.You learn to exploit the full capacity of the engine. You start with slow speed and gradually reach the maximum speed and yet the car is completely under your control. Then you can be called an ace driver. An ace driver is not one who is seated in a parked car. Only when the car is moving at top speed and yet moves as you want it to move, you can claim you have full control over it. In the same way, if your mind is empty and there are no thoughts, there is nothing to control and that is not ‘manonigrahah’- control of the mind. When the mind is full of thoughts and you are not dragged by them, then you can be said to have ‘mano nigrahah’ – control of the mind or the discipline of mind.
Control of the mind means to have thoughts but to remain unaffected by them. In spite of thoughts you remain unaffected and that is `mind control.’ Suppose I ask you if you have ever committed any theft, you will naturally answer in the negative. Then I ask you, “How did you manage that?”. You say, “I never got a chance”. That means, you could commit the crime if you get a chance. This is how some ‘sadhus’ who are supposed to have renounced everything become businessmen `sadhus’ or commercial `sadhus’ when they get the first chance to make money. If you sell coconut you are a businessman; how is it that when you sell God, you are considered religious? If you sell medicine to keep the body healthy, are you considered religious? But if you sell yoga, you are considered a ‘spiritual’. These are the misconceptions people have and there are cheats who use it to their advantage. You must be honest with yourself. You cannot afford to be deceptive. When you deceive, you are the first person to be affected. As you are learning about all these things you must understand your personal behaviour and social behaviour and apply whatever you are learning, in your personal life. Otherwise you will have all the information but you will remain stupid. A book has all the ideas but the book is not enlightened.
He, indeed, is an honest man, who having all the opportunities and chances, does not commit any crime. In the field of religion also, you find there is corruption, dishonesty, jealousy, greed etc because, a corrupt man, a dishonest man, a jealous man or a greedy man has just changed his clothes. Previously he was playing havoc in plain clothes and now he is doing the same thing in ochre clothes.
I will narrate an incident that happened recently in Rishikesh when I stayed there for some time A ‘sadhu’ was staying in one of the ‘Ashrams’ there and had locked himself up in his room. When an ordinary person locks himself up in a room, we think that he must be sleeping or upto some mischief. When a `sadhu’ locks the door, we take it for granted that he must be in meditation. So, for two days nobody disturbed him. On the third day, however,everyone was worried since there was no noise from the room and he had not come out even for food. They knocked on the door and there was no response. They broke open the door and they were shocked by what they saw inside. The man who opened the door nearly fainted. The stench from the room was unbearable. The `sadhu’ was dead drunk and unconscious. The room was filled with empty bottles, cigarette butts, filth and dirt. The whole place was stinking horribly and it was abominable and disgusting. Nobody could even enter the room. This `sadhu’ was an engineer before and he had given up the job and had taken the ochre clothes.
A friend, who was with me when we witnessed the scene, asked me, “How can a `sadhu’ drink?” I replied, “A `sadhu’ does not drink. A drunkard has taken the clothes of a sadhu”. A `sadhu’, a 'sanyasi' is an eternal renunciate who understands the Reality, recognises himself and he will never do that. But we always put the cart before the horse. We think that by changing our dress we shall be wise; by changing our lifestyle, by eating vegetarian food, we shall be wise. The cow eats grass everyday Is the cow enlightened? By putting on a particular type of dress or `chandan’ on the forehead or wearing a ‘mala’ one does not become wise. One who is wise may take a particular type of dress to announce to the world that he is interested in understanding the Absolute and that he is not in competition with the others for material acquisitions. But since we associate the external appearance with religion, we are taken for a ride. Anybody who wears a surgeon’s gown is not a surgeon; anybody who wears a black gown is not a lawyer; anyone who wears the khakhi uniform is not a policeman. But we associate the dress with that particular profession and we are deceived by cheats who exploit our mental block. A thief comes in the dress of a policeman and loots you. A man has no thoughts of medicine in his head but puts on the gown to announce to the world that he is a doctor.
Manonigrahah means understanding your own thoughts, observing your mind. I am deliberately using the word `observing’ and not ‘controlling’. The word `controlling’ has a negative connotation. When you say `controlling a child’ or ‘controlling a person’, one feels that somebody is bossing over them. Please understand that the body and mind are beautiful instruments and if they do not function properly, it is not their fault. If you see a car swerving from left to right and from right to left, you do not say that the car is drunk. You know that the driver is drunk. You have to fix the driver and not the car.
Mind is also a vehicle. Suppose it is angry, hateful, jealous, we say the mind is creating havoc in your life. But that is not true. ‘You’ are creating the havoc. ‘You’ have done it; your society has done it; your teachers are responsible for it; your parents, friends are responsible for it; your tradition, your customs have done it, by providing you with wrong conditioning. Your mind has been fed with wrong conditioning that material possessions will bring you happiness. All the time the voices that you are listening to inside, are not yours. They are somebody else’s. So you cannot blame the body or the mind. They are just instruments, vehicles. When you observe the mind, you shall see that no thought by itself is a curse. Thoughts are mere suggestions. They are not commandments. But, for the average man who has not learnt to observe the mind and exercise control over the mind, every thought is a commandment. If a thought rises in the mind he has to express it immediately. There are many thoughts inside and he listens to all of them. His thoughts are the outsiders inside!
You must see that thoughts are mere projections and it is up to you to act on them or ignore them. They have by themselves no likes or dislikes. When you know this, you are no more afraid of your thoughts. You perceive a beautiful mind inside. There are lovely thoughts. You do not label them as good or bad. With that type of a mind, you are very comfortable with your thoughts.
Manonigrahah, therefore, does not mean not thinking but it means to think without coming under the spell of thoughts. Any thought pushing you into activity without your knowledge or control is a commandment. With one thought you are in the kitchen; with the next thought you are outside the house; with yet another thought, you are fighting with somebody. Thus the thoughts push you from one activity to another. You must watch this drama taking place inside you. If you try to sit down quietly for half an hour, one thought will come up and say, “Come on, get up. You are simply wasting your time”. Even before you know it, you open your eyes and walk away! If the mind is restless, the body cannot keep quiet.
Manonigraha means that you stand by your decisions. When you decide to sit down for half an hour, other thoughts urge you to do something else. But when You just observe those thoughts and still do not obey those thoughts and act at the level of the body, you get a glimpse into your sovereignty, your mastery over your mind.
Some of Suddhananda's comments that I had noted from his lectures in Melbourne:
a) Without understanding ourselves first, let's avoid wasting time asking about God's existence (or denying it). If God exists he/she/it can't be made to vanish simply by not believing in him/her/it. If he/she/it doesn't exist no amount of believing can make him/her/it come to life.
b) All religions and godmen have led us badly astray. We need to stop assuming things and start by scientifically understanding our own body, our mind, and our selves. We will soon find we are all the SAME within. So why these artificial and stupid distinctions between religions and 'groups' of people? Why limit ourselves by narrow definitions and boundaries when we are not made to be limited in any way? We are capable of thinking of infinity. Let's think broadly and not narrowly.
c) To be able to do any good for anyone else we have to be fully at ease with ourselves. We have to love ourselves. We have to be happy and content; at peace. Taking care of our body and mind is therefore the most important task we have before us. This is not selfishness. Only after we have taken care of ourselves can we or should we think of trying to help others. We can't give money to others if we don't have money to give.
d) Our mind is an instrument, somewhat like a screensaver that continuously generates images and thoughts. We should observe and understand our mind, and aim to become its MASTER, not be its slave, like the vast majority of humans in this world are.
e) Don't carry books on your head. They are merely pieces of paper. The paper and binding of the book is immaterial. Absorb them – get them into your head. Act on the books. Don't worship a map that leads to gold. Go get the gold. And don't worship anything. Learn to be just a normal human being with an open and clear mind.
f) Also, he notes that exclusivity destroys. For example, if there is God (and he 'knows' there is – according to Upanishadic philosophy – an argument which is rationally persuasive and emprically 'testable' in a way, but which I still baulk at validating until I fully explore it further) – then it makes no sense whatsoever to say that God is constrained in any way by one's beliefs or definitions. Such claims merely create fanaticism. It is a terrible shame that exclusive religions exist on this earth, disrupting the life and natural happiness of mankind.
"The mind has no male mind or female mind; no male anger or female anger; no male emotion or female emotion: the body is different but the mind is the same".
"The child is born with a sentence of 'hanging' – capital punishment: of death. A leaking boat, our body, guaranteed to die. Self knowledge gives us the power to swim away from the leaking boat".
"The knife doesn't get up to kill somebody." So, hence, understand your own mind; understand who you are; close your eyes and watch the landscape within you …
"If anything pulls you, you are less than that" (e.g. a bottle of liquor, a cigarette, a man, a woman, anything).
"If you want to understand yourself, you have to dissect your mind".
"Education gives you false confidence. If when asked 'Who are you?' you reply, 'I am PhD' you get a minus 2 because you neither know what a PhD is nor you know who you are".
"Like or not, false confidence is one stage of life. At this stage when some religion comes and gives you an 'identity' are they giving you the truth or another false identity?". [Elsewhere he talks about how stupid it is for some religious people to be considered holy because they eat (or don't eat) particular foods. How is food related to holiness?]
"You have to feed everyone around you as a professional. Therefore you get stressed. Note that only professionals get stressed – hence 'stress management' books. And when professionals get stressed, religions come to you like a vulture, to feed on you!"
"When perception is questioned, science begins. When the perceiver is questioned, thinking begins."
"Falsehood needs groups, the truth stands alone".Thus, those who believe in falsehoods resist truth by not asking questions and thus behaving like cults. For example the Vatican pardoned Galileo (in March 2008) after denying his findings for over 350 years. But the issue here is this, though: Who should pardon whom?! Vatican should pardon Galileo, or vice versa?!"