Making our thoughts fewer

We can think of the world and of our own body as a sort of factory


We can think of the world and of our own body as a sort of factory. It just takes in things, and it works, and then it produces things, good or bad.  One can think of a factory as controlled by the memos that go around. When the stock gets low, a memo goes from the stock to buyers or beyond and the buyers buy it.  Then it’s delivered to the place to be used. The product goes out and then the sales force is mobilized, and the factory goes on. You can work out what happens in the factory by looking at the memos. You can get the idea that the factory runs itself. When an order comes in for outside, the central processing office is alerted and that specifies the order to be fulfilled.  Then the various items from stock are called, and the toolmakers are brought in if there’s special tools. It all runs on memos. It runs itself.  There’s (apparently) no need of anything else – but there is. The factory is integrated by a manager who doesn’t appear on the shop floor. Maybe it’s all run from a small office with nothing but a fax and a computer in it. There’s a control, an integrating control.

Now, in the same way, about our mind we think, “Oh, I have motives and I do this. That’s why I did that. That’s why I didn’t do this.”  There is something deeper. There is something which is making us restless and searching, not simply living our lives. We have to try to find this power which energizes the search and the refinement of our faculties. By these exercises of controlling the thoughts and making the thoughts fewer, that can begin to be isolated. We are looking, in fact, for the general manager. It seems an endless task. When we look inside, we don’t find anything. We just find my motives, my feelings, “Don’t like this; I like that; can’t be changed; that’s the way I am; this is what I like; this is what I don’t like; how can you change that?”

Well, this was put to a teacher once: “I don’t like something. No, I don’t think he’s going to make me like it. Is it? I just don’t like it.” The teacher said to him, “I see you smoke an occasional cigarette.” The man said, “Oh yes.  Twice a day after a meal.” The teacher said to him, “Think back to when you had your first cigarette.  What was that like?”  He said, “Oh, well, I kept coughing and I got a burning feeling.  Then I was sick after that; but I kept going because they would laugh at me. I kept going. I kept trying and I smoked a bit at home and got used to it. Now I like it.”

The teacher said, “Well, that’s an example, isn’t it? By your will power, you changed what was most unpleasant into what is now an addiction.  Now you can’t do without it, can you? You did that by your will. Even your basic likes and dislikes can be changed.” “Oh yes. I suppose that might be so.” Now he said, “Examine how much of what you regard as your basic attitudes have been created by yourself?”

They’re not natural. People are strongly right-handed or strongly left-handed.  We are born with a certain tendency.  If I’m born, say left-handed, well, I’ll begin to do everything I can with the left hand. The right hand will become less efficient, and the left hand will become more efficient. Finally, the whole body will become distorted. It will be difficult to write with the right hand.  The first thing the teacher does for somebody who’s coming up for training, is to bring both sides of the body into conscious control so that he can use either. If I’m strongly left-handed, I don’t like to be made to do things with the right hand. I think, “No – it doesn’t suit me.”  But it does suit me when both hands are trained so that I can use either. There’ll still be a tendency, but I will be able to use the right hand.

These examples show the way that, what we regard as absolutely fundamental things, basic to us, are in fact created. Singers with a natural voice, they generally have a little range of four or five notes that they can really sing well. The rest of the two octaves, very few can sing. They choose songs where the vital notes come in the range they can manage. When they go to a teacher of music, he begins to give them songs where the weak notes are the important ones. Then the pupil thinks, “Oh, he doesn’t understand me. This is ridiculous. These songs don’t suit me.”  The teacher wants to bring the weak notes up to the level of the strong notes; and then bring the whole register, the whole two-octave register together. It seems that the teacher’s asking for something unnatural; but, actually, he’s making what was distorted, just these few notes, into something which is balanced and even and subject to control completely, and then bringing the whole lot together.

The teachers get us to look at these examples from daily life. We are expected to look into them and to try to understand what’s happening. The point of theory is that, without doing some theory, we will have no incentive to practise at all. These flashes that we hear from the Upanishad: “That which the mind cannot grasp but by whose power the mind grasps – that is Brahman.”  Somehow it seems to mean something, and yet not mean anything. “By whose power the mind grasps”. I wear glasses. Sometimes I put them down somewhere I can’t find them. Well, say I’m looking for them, and then a friend comes in who’s a close friend, and perhaps a little bit of a joker.  He says, “You’re looking at them.” I say, “Where?” “You’re looking at them.” He has a little bit of fun like that.  I say, “What are you talking about? I can’t see them anywhere.”  He says, “Now, stand up and shut your eyes. Now feel.” While I was looking objectively, I couldn’t see them, and yet, I wouldn’t be able to look, unless I had them on. When I put them on, if I very calmly pay attention and don’t look at the objects, I can just see the glass, although it’s transparent.  I can actually see the glass.

Now take this example. The mind corresponds to the glasses.  Now we’re looking for the power, by whose power the mind, the movements of the mind are known. What is that power? The power – there’s a power beyond the mind (which is the glasses).  The mind or the optic is the implement, but there’s a power through which the mind is known.  If I look very carefully at the movements of my mind, I can become aware that there’s something beyond the mind which is not moving about as the mind is moving, which isn’t a lot of different things.  Glasses are one, but you’re looking at all sorts of different things.

Now, if you like to just try to sit still, and then in our thinking, the thoughts come, there is a light under which the thoughts are seen.  There’s a light.  The thoughts move, but there is a steady awareness, a steady light which is aware of the changing thoughts, that doesn’t change.

Talks in this series are:

1. Bringing the mind to steadiness

2. Making our thoughts fewer 

3. Finding God in ourselves

4. Our thoughts become controlled

The full talk is The direction of the quest

© Trevor Leggett


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