Focusing the Mind
“The Self abiding in all beings, and all beings in the Self,
sees he whose Self has been made steadfast by Yoga,
who everywhere sees the same.”(Bhagavad Gita VI 29)
Commenting on this verse, Shankara explains the phrase “whose self has been made steadfast by Yoga” (yoga yuktatma) as “whose inner organ (mind) is steadied by samadhi” (samahita antahkarana). Samadhi is the peak of meditation when the distinction of meditator, object of meditation, and process of meditation is transcended. In thirty-seven places in his Gita commentary, Shankara explains the word Yoga or its derivatives by samadhi or its adjectival form.
The disciple Arjuna says: “I do not see how this Yoga can be maintained, because of the restlessness of the mind, as hard to restrain as the wind.”
The teacher Krishna replies: “Doubtless the mind is hard to restrain and restless, but by practice and indifference it can be restrained.”
The commentator explains that practice means repeatedly dwelling on the same thing, focusing on it so that finally a master sentiment is created. Indifference means giving up interest in other things.
These two-practice of one thing, and indifference to other things-are what in Yoga is called: having an objective. We have to find out our real objective, and to do that we have to focus our mind and all its faculties on the problem. Of these the most important at the beginning is desire.
Yoga tells us that the Supreme Lord is the unconditional object of our desire; in everything we attempt we are seeking Him, but our search is often misdirected. We are desiring something, but are not clear what exactly it is. So there is restlessness, vague groping, trying one thing after another and always disappointed to some extent; yet still continuing to search, like a patient in a fever endlessly turning and twisting to find some position which will give him relaxation and comfort.
One yogic process is to analyse desire, right to the end. Many think money would solve their problems. Lord Thomson said in a radio interview not long ago: “I think almost anyone can make money, but to do it they have to be ready to sacrifice everything, the whole life, the feelings, everything. If people knew how narrowing the concept is, they would not want to do it.”
Even so, most of us believe we should be able to use the money to make ourselves perfectly happy. This idea should be thought through. Granted you have money: what if you becomeill ?Yes, I should also require good health with my money, Granted you have money and health, what if you had no friends? I should naturally require loyal friends. Suppose you had no one to love you? Yes, I should need to be loved for myself. Granted you have money, health, friends, love-what if a revolutionary determined to assassinate you? I should of course require absolute social security. Granted you have money, health, good friends, love, security, what if you became bored? Yes, 1 should require continued zest for life. What about old age? and so on, and so on.
In the end, when the desires have been made explicit, man finds that he wants to be a god, though what he believed at the beginning was only that he needed money.
To read history is one way of focusing desires, for we can look at those who obtained what most people fancy will create happiness. Casanova, who was undoubtedly successful in his line, records in his memoirs that as time went on his feelings became hardened and ultimately killed, so that he found himself incapable of any love or affection, though he still mechancially went to his assignations. Robert Burns says the same thing-an uncontrolled sex life petrifies the inner feeling.
By observing the experience of the past in history, we come closer to focusing our desire-to finding out that what we are really desiring always tends towards infinity, that our desires can never be satisfied by a limited personality. There is no happiness in the finite, says the Upanishad; only in the infinite is there happiness.
After desire, mind is focused by interest.
In Yoga all the elements of the personality have to be focused, not only one. An intellectual quest alone, or an emotional quest alone, will not lead to fulfilment, because the neglected elements of the personality remain unconvinced.
In China round about A.D. 500 Buddhists tended to be theoretically and aesthetically inclined. Fascinated by the sweep of Buddhist thought, elevated by the wonderful prose of the Sutras as translated into Chinese by Indians of genius, they believed that Buddhism was to be able to quote an apt phrase from a Sutra to beautify a poem or a conversation. So in the Zen lines the teachers began to present riddles-strange stories about a dog or a kitten, a buffalo or a turtle-nosed snake. Pupils were required to solve one of these riddles; it could not be answered from the Sutras, which never mention such things. The Chinese Buddhists had to give up quotingnot without a great struggle.
Facing the riddle, they first thought,”What has this got to do with Buddhism or with me?” But the teachers pressed, and they had to find an answer that did not come from a book but from depth of experience. It was not to be something learned from outside, but something in a way already known, though obscurely. The dog, the kitten, the turtle-nosed snake are something already in the man himself, but not clearly realized. This technique is known in all mystical schools, but it developed especially in Far Eastern Buddhism, because the people of those lands were such inveterate quoters.
The main point holds good everywhere: Yoga is not creation of something, but recognition. As an analogy, look at this puzzle picture. There is a man hidden in the apparently meaningless jumble of black and white.
To find the man hints are necessary with which to form a concept, some idea of what to look for. For instance it is a help to know how big the man is supposed to be. But the hints may seem absurd and untrue, till the man appears.
The upper margin of the picture cuts his brow, thus the top of his head is not shown. The point of the jaw, clean shaven and brightly illuminated, is just above the geometric centre of the picture. A white mantle covers the right shoulder. The right upper sleeve is exposed as the rather black area at the lower left. The hair and beard are after the manner of a late medieval sacred picture.
These notions are applied one by one and then all together, to the picture. Often we seem to force something out of it, but it falls away as soon as we stop trying. Some people lose hope at this point, and believe they can never see anything.
A point to note is that we can try to discover the man, or not try, just as we like; but once we do see him, he is always there in the picture, and we never again see it as a meaningless mass of blacks and whites. The attempts correspond to meditation, which can be done or not done as one likes; the appearance of the hidden man corresponds to knowledge, which is always there, once seen, without any effort.
Another point is this: when the man is “seen“, we find that it is not quite as we had imagined from the hints. The hints are not absolutely exact. For instance, when the man is seen, most people do not agree that it is the point of the jaw (in the second clue) that stands out so brightly; it is in fact the front of the chin, just below the mouth. But the hints do enable us to see; just as the meditation texts do.
When the yogi begins to see something in his own self, it is not quite the same as the ideas he had formed, because he had his own preconceptions mixed with the holy texts. Still, in the end he recognizes that what he is becoming aware of is what was pointed to by the texts.
“It is the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind, the tongue of the tongue, the life of the life and the eye of the eye.”
“That which is unapproachable by the mind but which gives the mind its ability to think, that is to be known as Brahman and not what the people here worship.”
These are clues to the inner realization, and they have to be meditated upon to give up their meaning, and then that meaning has to be applied to the inner self. “The self alone is to be worshipped”, says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, and this sentence is repeatedly quoted by Shankara as giving the essence of the truth.
The Lord is to be recognized in direct consciousness: in the jumbled mind and personality is the presence of the Lord. The late Shankaracharya of the ancient Sringeri Monastery in south India used to say: “The Lord visits man many times a day but man does not recognize him.” There is another consciousness, veiled by the body-consciousness-veiled but not wholly hidden. Clouds veil the sun, but the fact that the clouds are seen at all attests the presence of the sun behind them. The limited ego does not seem to feel the Lord, but it is by the Lord’s presence that the mind is conscious at all. Behind thick clouds, the sun shines undiminished; we verify this fact when we go aloft in an aircraft on a cloudy day-suddenly the cloud layer is pierced and the sun is seen shining as ever in the blue sky.
One of the quickest techniques in Yoga to vivify this recognition is repetition of the word OM, the holiest of the names of God. Patanjali says: “repetition of OM with understanding of the meaning, removes obstacles and gives sight of the real Self.” The limited body-consciousness is not absolute. It seems absolute, but it is not. In a dream too it seems absolute, as when in a nightmare we try vainly to break away from it. Yet when we awake, we recognize that the absoluteness of the bodyconsciousness in that dream was false. There are “lucid dreams” in which dreamers are aware they are dreaming-then the events of the dream no longer bind them; this contains a hint for the first stage of yogic meditations.
Swami Rama Tirtha, a fellow desciple of our own teacher Dr Shastri, says:
“When you rise above the local consciousness, according to which you feel yourself to be limited to an area five or six feet, upwards with a head and sometimes a turban or a hat, and downwards a pair of shoes-then the natural sound of the mantra OM is finding expression in you, and your soul is coming to at-one-ment with the universal Lord.”
We are not to think that the faculty of God-vision is only for a few saints. Dr Shastri says-“though today you cannot perceive him, if you persist one day you will see him with unveiled eyes. If the soul continues with discipline and the search for truth, it will evolve a new mentality and finally see God.” The faculty is in every man, though latent. In this sense our teacher often compared it with the mathematical faculty of a baby, which seems non-existent but can be developed.
The history of mathematics is instructive. For many centuries it was thought too difficult, even for a professional accountant, to multiply more than 5 X 5 in the head. They had charts of the higher multiplication tables put on the wall, and if separated from these, there were methods of finger calculation. A man who could do this quickly was regarded as skilful in accountancy-there was a saying that one could estimate accounting skill by the suppleness of the fingers. To be able to multiply 9 X 11 or 8 X 12 in the head, as we can all do at school these days, would have been the mark of a genius.
Yogic faculties are latent in all men-they appear fractionally in the little-understood phenomena of inspiration in art and science. One of the myths of science is that it proceeds by small logical steps from observation to tentative hypothesis, through verification to certitude. This might be partially true in what has been called the routine of science, confirming and making more precise already accepted principles, but it is not true of the revolutionary discoveries, which controvert the accepted
doctrine. (Most of these revolutionary discoveries are made by young men or by workers whose main field has been another discipline-those who have worked too long under certain assumptions are generally reluctant to consider changes.)
Studying accounts given by Nobel Prize winners, we may be surprised how often they recognize their dependence upon faculties known only by results and not by means of workinga dependence which they share with poets and composers. Linus Pauling, perhaps the greatest living chemist, and who is one of the exceptions who has been continually prolific of new ideas over a long working life, says: “I deliberately make use of my unconscious mind. I think about the problem for about half an hour in bed and then go to sleep still thinking about it. I do this perhaps for several nights, and then forget about it altogether. Months or sometimes years later, as with the structure of alpha-keratin, the answer pops into my head.” In considering these remarks, it must be remembered that this is a man who thinks deeply about chemistry all of his working day, and has given his life to it. It is a description of a yogic technique, used for a limited end; as the Gita says, when used for a limited purpose, it produces only limited and temporary results.
The purpose of Yoga is to solve the problem of the ultimate reality of the universe, not relations between certain assumed elements of it. But still in some of these accounts of scientific inspiration can be found hints at the yogic methods.
Enlightenment is not a logical step-by-step process. Steps are necessary up to a certain point, but then there has to be a jump, and the yogi himself may not know just when he will make that jump-whether soon or after a long time. Just so in the “hidden man” diagram, the clues are a help and we must try in various ways to apply them to the picture, but then there is a kind of jump and the picture of the man comes alive. This diagram is used in Hanson’s Patterns of Discovery as an illustration of the creative process in science. One of the important things about it is, that though repeated attempts to apply the concepts contained in the clues must go on till the solution appears, the solution experience is not created by this repetition. It will generally take quite some time to come, but no one should say, “Oh well, I have only been trying for three minutes, I have no chance yet”, and no one should say, “I’ve been trying for an hour, I shall never see it.”
In Yoga, enlightenment is not created by meditation, but the meditation has to be continued until enlightenment comes. Enlightenment is direct and immediate, and it takes place first in samadhi, the peak of meditation where there is no thought “I am meditating on this”, but only the truth-“I am truth”.
After enlightenment the mind is used by the Lord directly as an instrument: it is not focussed round any self-protecting individual principle in it. The elements of the personality, memory, skills, attitudes remain, but they no longer revolve about an individual centre whose interests are primary. They are all direct channels of the cosmic process. Such a personality is like a pen in the hand of the Lord. The Lord will not fix wings and a propellor to it so that it may fly-that would not be the function of a pen-but he uses it to convey messages to the souls still labouring under delusion of their limited nature, to ease their suffering and ultimately awaken their Godhead.
The sages tell us that the texts must come to life, the concepts must come to life, in the yogi’s consciousness. Until that happens, they are like maps of hidden treasure, of only potential value. Too much scholarship can be an obstacle if it is used as a refuge from practice.
A famous pundit used to travel round northern India giving a lecture each year at all the towns, After one such lecture he sought for a porter to take his luggage to the next town, but all the porters appeared to be busy. Someone suggested a certain man-“he is simple-minded but he can carry your luggage.” He found the man who agreed to do the job, treating the scholar with great respect, calling him “My Lord”. As they went along, the pundit said, “Have you heard of me then?” “Oh yes, I know that you lecture in our town every year, he said and added, “The other porters won’t go this way because a lion has been attacking travellers, but I am honoured to go with you.” The pundit, a little shaken, asked him whether he had heard any of the lectures, to which he answered, “No, I was always busy with portering. But they said the lecture you gave last year was wonderful; I heard the title was The Lord in the Heart of All Beings. The teacher remarked complacently, “I think I showed some new material on the development of this concept, and some of the parallels even outside Hinduism-but I suppose it would have been rather difficult for you.”
The path rounded a bush and they found themselves facing a lion. The porter threw down the baggage and jumped in front of the pundit. He bowed to the lion and said, “My Lord, if you are hungry, please take me and not this man, who is a famous scholar and is doing a great religious work in our part of the country.” The lion looked at him and went away. The bewildered pundit asked, “What has happened?” “I don’t know,” said the porter. “Tell me,” insisted the scholar.
“I can only tell you this. Your lecture was called The Lord in the Heart of All Beings. Of course I didn’t hear it, but I was told how important it was. On my journeys I used to wonder about the title, and at first I thought it was nonsense. How can the Lord be in the heart of all beings? Then I thought how you were a great scholar, and if you said so, it must be true. I was thinking about it a lot; in the end I was thinking about it all the time. And I began to see something I hadn’t noticed before. It seemed to me as if I was beginning to see the Lord. When that lion looked at me, I saw the Lord looking out of his eyes, and I said what I had to say, and the Lord did as he pleased.”
The pundit bowed to him, “I gave the lecture, but never knew what it really meant. You heard only the title but you brought it to life. I should be taking the baggage, you should not be carrying it.”
The porter said, “My Lord, I have a strong back. Let us go on with our parts; let me carry the baggage, and you give the lectures in our towns.”