Polishing the Mirror of the Mind

As a metal mirror tarnished by dust shines bright again after it has been cleaned, so does the one in the body, when he sees the true nature of his Self, attain oneness and the goal and freedom from sorrow. When the one in meditation, through seeing the truth of his Self as a lamp in this body, realises the true nature of Brahman, he knows the unborn, eternal God beyond all natures. He is freed from all bonds. He is the God who pervades all. He has been born and he will be born. He stands behind all – all-seeing. Adoration to that God, adoration”. [These words come from what is] called the Shvetasvatara Upanishad.

In these verses, a means is given and a realisation. The means is exemplified by cleaning a mirror. The mirrors were of metal [In India at that time]. They’re cleaned by passing a rough surface repeatedly over the metal in a polishing movement. The polishing movement itself is not light. Its only purpose is to make the mirror stand forth as a mirror. It always is a mirror, even when dull. When it is cleaned, it stands forth as a mirror. The polishing action itself is only a means.

One of the teachers laid great stress that the means should not become the end. This very often happens. Somebody who gets a very new and complicated high fidelity recording equipment, in fact, when they want to use it to listen, they are constantly jumping up and adjusting something, then sitting back again, and then they jump up again. They bring the bass up a little bit and then they change the loudspeakers a little bit. They don’t listen to music. The means, which was the equipment, has become an end in itself to make it ever more technically perfect, but they forget why they have it. They don’t, in fact, enjoy the music.

In the same way, any spiritual means can become an end, can become a life in itself. People make a pilgrimage and they are given, at the place of pilgrimage in the Far East, a little piece of wood from the sacred grove. It just has roughly on it the name of the divinity. It’s wrapped up in a piece of paper to preserve it and it’s carried around. The man remembers when he touches it – he carries it with him – he just touches it and then he remembers the pilgrimage he made and the worship of the great divinity. It is a Japanese god. His name is Daikoku. He corresponds to Shiva, a god of prosperity or auspiciousness.

It’s a simple piece of wood and its purpose is to remember, to remind one, but one can also have a little bag to carry it in to protect it. The bag – it’s nice. It’s embroidered in a little bit of colour. It’s very attractively done with a little cord to hang it. That makes it last longer and it’s better. Again, one can have the thing, the form of the god himself, very well carved on a piece of metal. This will last longer. It’s a replica of a work by a famous artist, shows the god of prosperity with the rice bags and a great sack on his back like Father Christmas. They’ve even put a Sanskrit letter at the top. He’s not a Buddhist divinity. There’s no connection at all, but it’s been put in for good measure, one for the pot so to say. They might have this, and this is very much better. This is now really quite a work of art. But then when you have a little shrine, in the shrine, you can have a replica, made by a famous artist. It’s pure silver, of the God in the shrine. They put in a tray of pure silver for little offerings of rice every morning. Then one feels the whole thing has got on to a higher plane.

Now, you can’t help feeling that in the great forecourt of the God’s palace where all the prayers are jostling together and one says, “My man’s in terrible trouble,” and the others say, “Don’t push. You’ve got to wait your turn”  that there’ll be a little gate by the side: “Silver prayers this way.”

You can’t help feeling then that one doesn’t really have to think much about Daikoku himself if you’ve got the silver image because, well, it’ll just have priority. In this way, what began as a spiritual thing becomes in the end an artistic appreciation, and the purpose has been lost.

Arjuna used to worship with these vessels, vessels like this of pure silver, and he made a ceremony and he prayed, keeping very carefully to the rules. He asked once what happened to his prayers and his devotions. He was given a vision. They said, “Well, you and your brother’s, they go up together.” His brother Bhima just used to stand for a moment with his hands clasped. No ceremony, no fuss.

He was taken up to this heaven where there was a mass of flowers. He realised these were his prayers. He saw a little posy on one side and he realised those were Bhima’s prayers, and they had still some beauty. The attendants were piling these flowers onto carts to take to the hall of the Almighty. One of the attendants says to the other, “Be quick. Come on, we must hurry.” Arjuna said to him, “It’s all right. I’m not going to do my devotions”. “Your devotions ? Why, with that little posy, we can manage that, but Bhima is about to pray again.”

The story is to indicate that the beautiful ceremony doesn’t necessarily carry intensity. Bhima is an incarnation of Hanuman. Bhima is Hanuman in the Kali Yuga. In the Kali Yuga, he is often swept away by his fighting fury, but at the time of devotion, he becomes Hanuman again. Then, to polish the mirror –  it’s made bright by polishing. It says it must be done by one who knows.

One of the important Zen stories is a man who practised meditation. He used to sit in meditation. Finally, he went to a small hut to do it by himself. His teacher came, but he thought it best not to get up so he went on with his meditation. Then the teacher sat beside him and picked up a tile and began grinding it. This time he thought perhaps it’d be better to take notice of the teacher. He said, “What are you doing? You’re disturbing me.”

The teacher said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m making a Buddha.” The teacher went on grinding. He said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m making a mirror.” He said, “No amount of grinding will make a mirror out of something which isn’t a mirror.” The man said, “No amount of meditation will make a Buddha out of something which isn’t a Buddha.” Our teacher in commenting on that story said, “He thought he was making a Buddha. He had to create something which was not there. He didn’t know there was a mirror, an Atman, already there. He was trying to create something”.

In the same way, we are taught there must be an intellectual basis of conviction. Then meditation is made on that basis. It’s not creating something which doesn’t exist. It’s making something stand forth which does exist. Madhusudhana in his Gita commentary says this, “Then they stand forth in My form. Not that they were not of My form before, but now they stand forth clearly in My form”. Without the realisation, which comes from meditation, all the phrases and the sayings and the holy texts are unreal. It’s easy to say the things that the sages say. We can read them, but they’re unreal when they’re said if we don’t realise them in practice.

In some of the Judo contests – sometimes it’s very fast and the opponent will catch the jacket here, he’ll jump and catch it – and to prevent that, or to make it more difficult, many of the very experienced men as they come out, they just move the shoulder. It makes it slightly, minimally more difficult to catch it. Of course, it’s only of use if you’re an expert, but then you can use that little bit of time you gain, which takes the coat away, just an inch or two.

Some of the children, they’re eight or nine, when they see a very experienced teacher who, as he comes out, has this habit against any opponent, he just moves the shoulders. You see the children do it too. Little children, they come up—[ movement of the shoulders like the expert].

It has no meaning, but they see the teacher doing and they imitate. He says to them, “Don’t do that. With you, it’s a purely mechanical thing, and it’ll impede your natural movement.” They think, ‘Well, he tells us not to do it, but he does it. He’s an expert. If I do it, I’m more likely to become an expert.’  Then the teacher tries to stop doing it, but he forgets. Then one day he comes again and they’re all imitating. Well, it’s a little bit similar. One can imitate these things, but whether they have any meaning when they are imitated is a different thing.

“The means are in maya,” our teacher said. “They are a manipulation of maya. They mean rising to the most pure part of maya, and then from that purest part of maya, to take a jump. They are in maya. They are available to the scrutiny of the intellect. It is a science of its own. The holy text tells us of two things. They make declarations and statements about the supreme truth. Then they make declarations and statements about the means to realise the supreme truth, which means are in maya”.

We have to take those means as part of an experimental science, and not to criticise them on the basis of our own science, which has never conducted these experiments. Thirty or forty years ago, our teacher would tell people who are very anxious, to go to the mirror when you’re feeling anxious. Look in the mirror, if you see a line in your forehead, smooth out the line. Do this repeatedly, and it will free you from the anxiety. How ridiculous! In a way that would be like telling a man whose teeth were chattering with the cold, “Hold your teeth and you won’t feel so cold,” Because the lines on the forehead would just be an effect, what would be the use of changing that? These are old wives’ tales. Now, this year in America, in Florida University, a useful approach has been discovered of treating high blood pressure. The patients are taught to relax by making them aware of the tension in the muscle of the forehead. Dr. William Lane [?] a psychologist at the University of Florida, who originated this technique, finds that it can produce a 10% reduction in blood pressure on average. Now it’s become scientific, so we can do it. It’s all right. It’s not an old wives’ tale, or perhaps the old wife was better informed than we think.

If we wait until some scientist conducts or stumbles upon such an experiment, we should have missed 30 years. Same way our teacher used to say, “If you are distracted, or dull, wash the face in cold water.” Yes. Feel it’ll make you feel better, no doubt it will. Now, they’ve done elaborate experiments in Russia with children in school. They break the session in the middle of the morning. Then one class I give them a towel wrung out from cold water to wash the face, and the control class, the next room – they stretch during the break.

The one who’ve washed the face do markedly better in the mental arithmetic, from the control class. They have an explanation: the trigeminal nerves. They have now a scientific explanation as they think, but if we waited until this experiment was done, then we would have lost a very long time. In the 1930s, our teachers used to speak of the two sides of the brain, the minister of the exterior, the minister of the interior. He said when you are feeling extroverted and you want to turn the mind within, pass the hand here or breathe through the right nostril. At the time, it was fantastic.

Now, Dr. Weinstein [?] in America is studying these things. In fact, he has written a book on it. He’s saying that an “interesting line of investigation may be that of breathing techniques. They may differentially innovate each hemisphere of the brain. Since the olfactory nerves enters directly and bilaterally into the brain, this technique might have effects on the separate halves of the brain”.

All this does is make it seem more scientific, but it doesn’t affect the instruction. So, we’re expected to take instructions from a teacher without expecting too much of a scientific explanation, an explanation in scientific terms. They have theoretical explanations in yoga, but we can’t necessarily understand them. There is the theory and there is the practice. We shouldn’t be too frightened if the present theory doesn’t confirm the yogic practice. We shouldn’t be too frightened.

In the New Scientist last week it says, “The beady eye of science, once turned upon biblical miracles, is apparently being redirected towards events of classical antiquity.” They give the famous story quoted by Plutarch of how Archimedes repulsed the Roman fleet at Syracuse by shining down the sunlight, which set the ships on fire. Professor Stavroudis, who’s just written an important book on optics, which was very favourably reviewed in the Nature last week. He studied this and he says, “Under ideal conditions, even a 100 or a few 100 mirrors, all directed undeviatingly at one target, would scarcely suffice to raise the temperature by more than a few degrees per minute.” He says, “What must have happened  was that they shone mirrors onto the Roman ships, which would have dazzled the Romans. Then they threw down the chemicals which Greek fire understood at the time as saltpetre and sulphur and set the ships on fire and of course, the two stories got mixed up”. So that Plutarch, a very good man, a very kind man, a very learned man, but he got the story wrong. It couldn’t have happened. Calculations show, he would only have raised the temperature of the object, a few degrees centigrade.

Now, unfortunately, there’s a terribly crude engineer in Greece who obviously couldn’t make the calculations and didn’t know it was impossible. He got 50 or 60 Greek sailors at the naval base, to aim large oblong mirrors, to focus on a little boat 160-feet away. Smoke appeared within seconds, and in two minutes the boat was on fire. Well, optics is supposed to be a science that’s fairly well-known, no obscurities in that. One of the foremost authorities says something’s impossible. And then somebody tries it, so we shouldn’t be too frightened by trying the experiments, even if some of the theoreticians think that they won’t lead to a result, because the only way of knowing, whether they’ll lead to a result, will be to try them. The teachers say that the pupil has to exercise himself in the means, which involve all the elements of the personality, not simply the strong point, nor to be too depressed by the weak points of the personality.

If a Yogi trains, his teacher is able to unify the efforts of his whole personality, his intellect, his feelings, his will, his intuition. The teacher and the tradition are able to unify them. You mustn’t think, “Oh, I’m no good at this. I shall never be able to do that.” The teacher, and the tradition, and the inspiration that he received from the Lord, will find means.

One story from Chinese history, which is quoted in a spiritual sense, is this, “The people of one of the states were well known to be what they called cowards. They didn’t like fighting. Then the time came when they had to fight – they were attacked by a neighbouring state. They called in, they invited in a very famous general, a man known for his great skill and also for his very upright character. They asked him to come and he said, “All right.” He addressed the army and he said, “I know you people, you are not people who love fighting, but will you trust me?” They said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, you have to fight. The enemy are far superior to you and the enemy despise you as cowards, but will you follow my orders?” They said, “Yes.”

They came through the mountains to challenge the enemy in the afternoon. They fought a battle. He privately had given his officer’s orders that when the battle went a little badly to retreat into the mountains. They retreated, gave away quite soon, retreated but in good order into the mountains. The enemy was hesitant to follow into the narrow valleys. He gave orders on the first night to light 10,000 campfires. They lit them and the enemy waited. They didn’t come out. The enemy didn’t follow them.

The next night he gave orders, 5,000 campfires. The next night, 2000 only. Then the enemy said, the enemy general said, “Yes, you see, they are such cowards, their army are deserting. It was 10,000. It was 5,000. Now there are only 2000. We can go in. There are only 2000 men there.” They went in and the others who were on the sides of the valley poured down the rocks and the attacking force was destroyed. The general used the reputation for cowardice. He used that very weakness and he turned it into a victory. It’s a famous story. An actual historical incident in how the weakness, the very weakness itself can be used by a very skilful man.

Then the ultimate means is to jump out of the individuality, into the true Self. It’s said: “Then by the light of that true Self, he will see Brahman. He will see the God who is within all and who stands behind all.” The Upanishads gives some of the subsidiary methods before the final meditation. These come in a number of places in the texts. Our teacher said they are basically of two kinds, one to purify the mind and to make it serene. The second is to make it one-pointed.

In the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, the first of the means is for making the mind clear and steady and serene. There are four practices given, not only meditations but actual practice. It says there a four kinds of people whom we meet: the happy, the unhappy, the virtuous, and the wicked. To the happy, to practise friendliness. The commentator says not friendship. If it is friendship, you are expected to support them and to take their side against other people, but friendliness, and he says, one of the great difficulties when somebody sees someone happy is a feeling of envy. He says not a feeling of envy, but a feeling of happiness in their happiness, or the people who are miserable to practise compassion. The commentator says, this doesn’t mean doing what they want but doing what will be for their benefit. Then, a very important one, he says, is in regard to the attitude to the virtuous. He says, it is a deep, as Jung says, it’s a great relief to feel one is dragging down something great. The commentators say, in essence, that confronted with the virtuous, a man feels a resentment. Even a direct speech is given:  “And these virtuous people?”, he says that is the feeling that instinctively comes up.

We can see it, for instance, if we look at the accounts of the disciples of Christ, how they resented each other’s virtue and how it changed afterwards because those accounts of how the disciples fought, even at critical moments as to who should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Those accounts must have come from those disciples themselves. There’s so much in the gospels that’s unfavourable to Peter -how jealous he was of John. That must have come from Peter himself. He completely changed. He completely overcame this point.

Our teacher said that when a man is virtuous, he must expect opposition.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that every time a man has opposition he can feel I’m virtuous because he may be the opposition to somebody else’s virtue! Overlooking the sin, and Shankara says to disregard it, but he says, just the same, not to have traffic with the people who make their lives in a sinful way. Then, he says, “These must be done. These practices must be done for clarifying and pacifying the mind.”

Then, for stabilising, for making the mind one-pointed, there are six alternatives: to make the breath controlled; to meditate on light, either externally or internally; to meditate on those who have attained perfect calm; meditate on saints or realised men; to meditate on the knowledge which comes from dream and sleep. Lastly, to meditate on the chosen one, on the particular form, the particular ideal, the spiritual ideal, which has a special attraction. For each man, there’s one aspect which has a special attraction, and he should meditate on that.

Now, our teacher gave the control of the breath practice. The central one, he said, on which all the others are based is to sit straight and to breathe slowly, gradually to make the breath slow. Then withdrawing, to feel the breath is coming in the centre line of the navel point and is rising with the in-breath up to here as if it were a line of light that’s rising up to here, like drawing up water in a straw. To breathe slowly to feel the breath or the prana, which is not quite the same as the breath, but it’s felt with it, coming in at the navel point and is coming up a central line up to between the brows. He often gave this practice.

The next one is meditating on light, either externally or internally. One of the practices is to look at the dawn sun. In Far Eastern mysticism, this is a very important, very important practice. The Chinese say looking at the dawn sun, looking at the sunrise, if he can do it, is a time when he can very easily forget his name, forget who he is, forget where he is, forget words. This is a very favourable moment when the sun comes up.

To meditate on light internally: one of the practices our teacher gave is this line which has been established by the breathing. Then, without breathing specially, when going about in the day, when performing physical activities: to realise the central line. This is a great advantage in performing physical activities. For instance, people would have to write a lot tend to get in a bad position, but if they remember the central line, they won’t become fatigued even though they have to write for a long time.

To meditate on some great soul who has become free, free from passion, free from desires and disturbances: one of the great saints or one of the avatars. In this sense, it was said of Shri Rama that when he was banished to exile for 14 years, and when he was enthroned finally, his face was the same. It was undisturbed. They said of Socrates that when he came back, whatever day he’d had, his face was the same.

To meditate on the knowledge that arises from sleep and dream. One of the forms of this is, if we examine who am I, we shall find, as the Upanishad says, the I sees. The limbs move. The voice speaks. The mind thinks, then who am I?’. The modern materialists would say, “That’s all there is, there is no I, you cannot point to anything, apart from these activities”. Dream gives us an example of the I free from all these activities. When the man is dreaming, his eyes are seeing, his legs are walking, his hands are grasping, his voice is speaking, his ears are hearing, his mind is thinking. When he wakes up all that stops at the instant of waking. All that stops and yet the I remains.

The last one: to meditate on the chosen one, on the Ishta Deva, the form of the Lord, which has a special attraction for him. Our teacher said, this is one reason for reading the sacred books, for reading the devotional poems – that we shall find something in it which will strike a special cord, which won’t be theoretical, which won’t be external, which will point to something in ourselves. Then it’s on that the man will be able to meditate especially easily, and he’ll be able to go more quickly, more deeply into meditation.

These are all methods of bringing the mind to stability. The previous methods were the previous four practices of friendliness, compassion, cheerfulness, kindliness towards the virtuous, and indifference towards the wicked. These are contained in the Gita verse chapter 2, verse 65. The buddhi, of the man of refined mind can quickly be brought to one point in this. Unless these have been done, as our teacher said, it means you have invited guests into your house. Then when you’ve finished with them, they won’t go. He said, the house must be restricted. The guests whom we invite must be people who will be peaceful and who will allow us to pursue our purposes. Then, when those are being practised, at the same time the Yogi practises the final meditation, and in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad and also in Patanjali very strongly, it is said, it is meditation on OM. The Upanishad says OM is a raft. This is one of the many cases where OM is compared to something which carries a man, is compared to a chariot or to a boat or to a raft. Something which if he can get on it, will carry him.

The OM repetition is called the raft of Brahman. Then the teacher says in the Upanishad that he will come to see the true nature of his Self. Then by that, as by a lamp, he will see the true nature of Brahman. Then he will know the God who is within all, who stands behind all.

Line of light practice

If you would like to try one of the practices, the line of light practice is to sit in a balanced position. Our teacher gave this method: to touch the finger between the brows and bring it down the central line lightly to the navel point, just press there. Then to use that sensation of pressure, to bring the mind back where the eyes shut. Use the sensation of pressure which will remain for a little bit and keep bringing the mind back to that and realise it is light. He [the teacher] said, we are not imagining something not there. There is a light there, which, as yet, we may not be able to see clearly. Then if you’d like to try, pass the finger down  he central line to the navel point. OM

This kind of meditation our teacher said is immediate experience, nothing to do with name or personality. In one of the koans or riddles of the Zen school, which is given to a man who has been doing this practice and whom the teacher thinks has done it and has a little experience. The riddle that he’s given is, “I don’t ask you the future. I don’t ask you the past. I ask you now”. The pupil gives an answer that will only be understood by people who have done this practice.






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