The direction of the quest

The mind is a jungle and sometimes a snakepit of thoughts, feelings and will but we do not know where they come from. What is their source? Who or what drives the mind? The Upanishads give a method of penetrating to the power beyond the mind. When this is consciously touched inspiration and energy from the cosmic purpose flow into the yogi.

(18 February 1996)

 I’m going to try and make this not merely theoretical, but with a little bit of practice for those who want to engage in it. One of the traditional means of bringing the mind to steadiness is to centre the attention here, a point roughly between the eyebrows on the forehead. Now I can touch the finger there or press the fingernail there, or even pinch there and use the aftersensation, which lasts for a little time, to bring the attention back to this point. One side is the minister of the exterior and the other side is the minister of the interior. Away from both of those, disregarding the exterior, disregarding the interior of memories, and so on, and just bringing the attention calmly instead to this point.  Now, if you like to try to touch this finger here, and then concentrate for about a couple of minutes, I’ll begin by saying, ‘OM’.  Then we’ll just sit silently, for those who want to do it.

When we learn Judo, we have to acquire a moving balance. One of the ways to acquire it is, not simply standing still and balancing oneself, but being pushed, and then coming back to balance again. In the same way, when we do these practices, if there’s a shout from outside, take that as a little push and come back to the balance again. Then if a sudden memory comes up, e.g. ‘Why did they say that?’, take that as a little push and come back. This is a useful practice for daily life. If we have to wait under irritating circumstances, just touch here.  Nobody need notice or you can do it sometimes afterwards. A little facility just to bring the attention there. Half-close the eyes, and then when these interruptions come from outside or from inside, to bring the attention back.

Now we are going to look at the Kena Upanishad which begins, the first word is, ‘Kena’ – ‘by whom’ or ‘by what’. Some of the Upanishads are known by their first word.  The Kena Upanishad is the Upanishad, ‘By what’.

Prompted by whom does the directed mind go out to this object? Under whose direction does the prana vitality the basis of all function? By whom is this speech willed that the people matter? Who is the radiant god who directs ears and eyes? The eye does not go there nor speech, nor mind. We cannot categorize it. We do not know any means of teaching. It is different from the known and again it is above the unknown. Thus, we heard from the ancients who indicated to us. That is not expressible in speech, but by whose power speech is revealed. Know that to be Brahman and not what the people here worship.”

“What man does not grasp with the mind, but by whose power the mind is grasped. Know that to be Brahman and not what the people here worship. What man does not see with the eye, but by which man is aware of his eyesight. Know that to be Brahman and not what the people here worship. What man does not hear with his ear, but by which man is aware of his hearing. Know that to be Brahman and not what the people here worship.”

This is an Upanishad which begins by saying, “By what is the mind directed?”  The mind doesn’t just go anywhere at all, it’s directed. What directs the mind? We can say, “Oh, the necessity of eating and so on”. No, no, that’s just one tiny sphere. The mind goes to many places, many directions. It’s directed to look. It explores, it’s not a question just of survival. There is something, there is a search in man to find something.  It’s especially strong in Western people now. They have lost the faith of the fathers, and now they’re looking for something. Some people in the east say that Western people are always going around as though they’ve lost something. They’re looking, trying to find something.  We’re trying to find a purpose and a sense in our lives. “He whom the mind cannot grasp, but by whose power the mind is grasped.” We don’t know where the thoughts come from. They’re my thoughts, but where do they come from? I don’t control them. I control some of them.  They come up in a flood. Where do the thoughts come from?

Now, if we like, again, just sit quietly and look at the thoughts.  Without straining, see where they come from and where they go to. A thought comes up from memory, don’t shake hands with it. Don’t talk to it. Just watch it rise and then fall. Now, if you like to just try…  These are little exercises.  They can be developed. If we develop them, we shall begin to acquire an inner balance. Then even though they are considerable shocks, shocks of disappointment, shocks of excitement and success, then we shan’t be crushed by the disappointment. We should be able to recover balance. We shan’t be over-excited by success, but get an independence of it.

These things are to be practised while circumstances are fairly good. One teacher used to say, “When the ship is sinking, it’s too late to learn to swim. You should have done that long ago, before you even went to sea, in calm water, in the local pool, or in the calm sea.” These practices can be done when circumstances are relatively good and we can get some facility in them, recovering to a centre point.  Then, if we practise and get facility in them, the time will come when we shall stumble. When we stumble physically, something pulls us into balance again. When we stumble morally or mentally, if we practise some of these things, there will be something which will bring us back into balance again, of itself.

These things are to be practised when the circumstances are favourable and if they are kept going, they will come to us. There is a power in us which observes the mind. Generally, we don’t see anything observing the mind. We think the mind looks at itself. I can feel I’m irritable today. I’m on top of the world today. I’m full of fighting spirit today. I feel crushed today. I can observe these things in the mind. There’s something which knows. The heart is not available to inspection, but we can feel the pulse. By practising these exercises, we begin to feel the pulse of our inner state.

We think, “Oh, I know what I feel now.” No, not so. A magician came to a master of meditation and to impress him he said, “I can do this and this. I can read the heart of others.”  The master, a Yogi, said to him, “Oh, that’s not so great. Can you read what is in your own heart?” We need to be able to read what is in our own heart – things that we are only vaguely aware of, but which can be brought into the light and we can see them.  When we see them, we can control them.

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.

The Upanishad was telling us, ‘This is God and not what the people worship’. God is somewhere remote.  In our school Bibles, when I was a boy, He might have been right up there.  He used to simply issue impossible commands and then be furious when we didn’t succeed in obeying them. This is not the true God – it’s an imagination, a projection. We’re expected to find the presence of God vividly in ourselves. There’s something which doesn’t move, which doesn’t die. Everything’s dying in us. The body is dying, changing and dying; the thoughts rise and they die. All our hopes and aspirations die; the disappointments too, die.  Everything passes, dying.  But the Gita says, “There is the one Lord standing in all the beings, the undying and the dying.”

The Upanishad says, “Search here in our own selves – not the self, the body and mind as we know them – the edge of the mind. And then to look beyond, to be aware of something beyond. They’re saying these are not vague ideas.  It’s not pleasant dreams of meditation, but it’s something definite. When you study archery, you shoot at a target, and you miss, as they say, 99 times.  But then you get one in the bull’s eye, in the centre. Now the 99 misses and the bull’s eye in the centre form one unit.  You have to miss a lot of times before you can reliably put one in the middle.

In the same way with meditation, try to find this point.  Settle the mind down, and then look, so to say, beyond the mind, beyond the moving.  We shall fail and fail and fail, but that doesn’t mean we’re failures. The one who’s trying archery is missing the target – at the beginning he completely misses the target; but it’s not that he’s a failure. This is part of the process of learning, of landing one in the bull’s eye. In the same way with meditation, to be aware: today was only 10% successful or only 20% successful. My life has become very disturbed and the last two or three minutes of meditation began to calm down.  Some days it’s 70% or 80% successful.

What happens if it is successful? They’re telling us, there is a breath from the Divine, so to speak.  Our lives begin to change.  Things that I’ve been frightened of, I begin to find I’m not so frightened of them – not that I’m screwing myself up to do them, but somehow they’re not quite so frightening as they were. Things that were too difficult, I find they’re not so difficult. Things that were too disturbing, things that were too boring – you to begin to find there’s a light which lights these things.  We can see them without being upset and disturbed by them, without being excited by them, without being distressed by them – to see it like a panorama.  Then because we see it clearly – not mixed up with the anticipation, “What’s going to happen now?” – we can meet them in an inspired way, as it’s called. We feel that the thoughts come up of themselves, they can’t be stopped.  But then the teacher says to us, “No, you’re supporting all the thoughts.” You think, “No, I’m not.  A lot of them I could do without. I don’t have to keep worrying about these things.”

I heard this both in the east and the west, the western example was this. It was a Golf Championship, and they’d drawn and there was a play-off the next day.  One of them sat up with his friends playing cards.  One or two of the friends said, “Look, don’t you think you want to get some sleep. It’s getting late, it’s after midnight.  The other champion, he went to bed early.” The first one said, “Yes, he went to bed early, but he’s not asleep. He went to bed early but there would be a rush of thoughts.” We think we can’t control those thoughts, but the teacher tells us, “Yes, you can. You create them.” I say, “No, I can’t control them. I wish I could control them. I wish I could do without them. I’m not supporting them.”  He said, “Yes, you are.” “No, I’m not – they come up of themselves.”

Well, the modern example is direct debit. I order something on a regular basis and now I can arrange that the appropriate amount of money is simply taken from my bank account. The thing arrives, the goods arrive, it seems to be of themselves. I don’t pay any money out. It seems as though they’re coming free of themselves. Only at the end of the month or the quarter of the year, then the direct debit account comes in and I find tremendous stuff. Now, in the same way, we are supporting with our vital energy the thoughts, the worries, the anticipations, the triumphs, the hatreds. We’re not aware of that because it’s direct debit.  In actual fact, we’re paying in vitality but we’re not aware we’re paying it. By practising, we can become aware and when we become aware, we can cease to support the thoughts.

Now, this is a modification that was used in the far east by the Japanese sword-masters. They were men who fought a lot of duels to the death, and they developed this practice: “Half shut your eyes now. Imagine you’re on a hilltop.  Feel you’re sitting on a seat on a hilltop with a clear view to the horizon.  There are no trees sticking up.  It’s like if you were on the downs and it’s just stretching out. You’re sitting there under the blue sky. In your lap, you’ve got a cloth full of little pebbles. Now, you sit there calmly. When a thought comes up, you wrap it around one of the little pebbles mentally and you throw it – throw the thought and the pebble away and it rolls away down the hill. Then another thought comes up. Pick up the pebble and throw that away. Not wanted.

Another thought comes up, an argument I had yesterday. “I could have said…” – throw it and the pebble. Another thought comes up. “What’s going to happen?” Throw it. Another one comes up. “Well, that was a good…!” Throw it. Then the thoughts will become fewer and finally, they become very few. You’re sitting on the seat calmly under the blue sky with no thoughts, awareness. Clear awareness.  Now, if you’d like to try:  you’re sitting on a hilltop, in your lap is a cloth with a lot of little round pebbles. A thought comes up, pick up the thought or the pebble so to speak, and just throw it away. Not wanted. Another thought comes up, throw it. Another thought comes up, throw it. Now if you’d like to just try it for a little bit.

Now we can say, “Well, I can feel the changes take place, physical changes take place when these meditations are pursued. More important are the changes in the vitality and the mental changes. Basically, it’s a search to go beyond. If we begin on these lines our life begins to get a sense of purpose. It begins to become directed and then it begins to become integrated. Those who can drop the unnecessary thoughts in ordinary life will find their lives flow much more easily.

There are inner lines to situations and they can sometimes find an inner line. The inner line comes to them from beyond the mind so to speak. It’s not thought out, but it comes to them by the same sort of inspiration that some artists and some scientists feel.  Concentration is first made but when there is facility in the practice then the thoughts can be dropped, largely dropped, and all the unnecessary thoughts begin to fall away. Then the movement becomes much more efficient.

One example, for instance, is something that happened to my teacher. He told us about it. He was a Brahman. One of the duties of a Brahman is to bring some spiritual consolation at least to those who are unfavourably placed due to their karma. He occasionally visited a lunatic asylum to talk to some of those inmates who were calm enough to be able to talk to. This place had a building and a field at the back with a small lake in it.  On this occasion, the place was being cleaned by the guards so all the residents were in the garden. Some were shouting, some were muttering, some were dancing, some were sitting brooding.

[He went in alone] because the guards were all busy and they knew him. So he spoke to two or three of them; and then one of them said, “Oh, Shastri. He’s a good fella. Let’s drown him in the lake.”  Some of the others came up and, “Yes, yes, yes, let’s do that. He’s a good chap.” Well, there were no guards in the field and, as they were all shouting, if he had shouted for help it would have been just one more shout. The guards wouldn’t necessarily have responded to that.  So he said (and I quote his words), “I said to them, “My friends, I agree – but will you give me a good send-off? Will you all give me a good three times ‘Pundit Hara Prasad Shastri ki Jai’?” (Jai is something like ‘bravo’ or ‘hurrah’.)  “Hurrah for Pundit Hara Prasad Shastri” – but then drown me. Do give me a send-off.” They said, “Oh, yes – of course!” They came around to see and then the leader said, “Now we’re giving him this and then we drown him. Come on altogether. Pundit Hari Prasad Shastri ki Jai.” Then all shouted together and then they shouted again, and the guards came running. While they were just shouting in the field, yelling, muttering, singing, disorganized, the guards knew that was just the people.  Once it was organized shouting, they knew there was something up. They were all shouting together so the guards knew immediately something had happened, something was up and they came running.

He gave that as a hint. When our minds are in confusion, full of resentment, fear, hatred, clinging affection, disappointment, excitement, anticipation, they’re jumbled.  They’re like those lunatics, each one shouting.  But if they become ordered, they say something different. While they’re all jumbled about then the Self is going to be drowned; but when they become ordered, then help will come. Now in the same way, when we begin to control our thoughts and they become ordered, then it’s said, ‘a bodhisattva in the highest heaven’.  When this ordered thought comes, he turns his head, and he goes down and he helps.  So the doctrine is that when attempts are made to control the thought, there is also help from the spiritual beings. Mainly it’s a search within ourselves and not a reliance on something external.

These are inner lines to a situation; and, by practising making the thoughts calm and few, the thoughts that remain have a clear field.  They become much more efficient and they become much more joyful, to be free from unnecessary anticipations and worries.  To be able to do it and set it free like shooting an arrow. Not shooting the arrow and thinking, “Oh, why isn’t it a little bit more that way”. No. Shoot it and then drop it.

We must do some study, otherwise it’s impossible to keep up with the practice. My mother was a diabetic in 1946 when it was quite a serious business. It wasn’t diagnosed when I came back from abroad but anyway, she was put on emergency. She was rushed into Kings College Hospital and then they got her balanced.  Then we had every day to test the urine and you made the injections in those days. She had to keep to the rules, the discipline of diabetes. When she was young, she was brought up in rather privileged circumstances, but she had a very strong and independent character. She thought it was wrong for girls to be brought up just as ornaments, as she put it; and so she left home. She was very young and took her three years’ nurses’ training at one of the main London hospitals. She told me a little bit about it – it was blood everywhere then. It was a really severe experience; but anyway, she qualified, although she never practised of course.

She came back home and that was on a different basis. It meant that she could understand the diabetic discipline, how it worked and why. Now, as a matter of fact, it’s a very carefully controlled diet. We had to weigh every slice of bread first and calculate everything exactly and it’s an extremely healthy diet. Although she remained a diabetic for the next 25 years, her general health was extremely good because of this is controlled diet.  Most people with diabetes are not living in a controlled way.

She could understand this, and she could accept the discipline. One of the things she told me was, in those days, not so much was known about diabetes. Banting had discovered it not long before, but she was under a Dr. Lawrence who was himself a diabetic. She said that listening to somebody who himself was following these disciplines, made it much more convincing. He wasn’t just recommending it to her. He was saying, “This is what I do.”  She followed this discipline, and she lived another, something like, 25 years – because she studied it just enough to fully understand what the purpose was and why and how.

She had a friend who was a historian, a brilliant woman, who also was diabetic.  She never studied it really. She knew the recommendations and the diet, but she didn’t study enough to be fully convinced. Like my mother, she had a sweet tooth, but my mother was able to put that aside completely. The other lady, she didn’t. I can remember she had a corner cupboard in one of her rooms and in that corner cupboard there was a box of chocolates. She’d be talking and then she’d get up and go across quietly to this corner cupboard. She’d just open the door a little fraction, and put a hand in, as though ‘Nobody saw me do that, so it won’t count’ – just like a small child stealing sweets. She’d stand there and drop it in her mouth, but it was too comical, really. We all knew but it was a sort of return to childhood.  It was because she had not done enough of the theory to be fully convinced about it.

Now in the same way with the theory of Yoga, we should read one small text really thoroughly, and almost learn it by heart so that it’s always with us. Find some text that appeals to one strongly, a small one, and then learn it. If you have that and you know it by heart, in a time of difficulty or crisis, the verses will come back of themselves. You won’t have to think, “Now what was it? Should I do this, or should I do that?” They will come back of themselves.

The method is great learning does keep you out of mischief, and I can say that.  But it isn’t necessarily an advantage for practice and it can even be a disadvantage. You can think, “Oh, I better learn a bit more before I start practising”. Well, then a whole lifetime goes by and you never really learn enough. We should just learn enough theory to become convinced.  We can say, “Well, how can you be convinced?” Because there’s an echo – these verses create an echo in us from what is beyond the mind.  There’s a resonance and we feel, “Yes”. Then that has to be cultivated by practice and then reading again; and to get the echo again and then to practise again.

Well, it’s essential to do just enough theory to be convinced.  If we’ve got to keep saying, “Oh, I don’t think I’ll practise today, I feel a bit off. I’ll leave it till tomorrow.” – no.  It’s like a musician or a ballet dancer. They must practise every day; and if they do practise every day, they should practise in the same place and at the same time.  Then the body and the mind begin to prepare themselves. Let’s suppose an athlete’s going to train at five o’clock every day.  Normally, they have to go down and do what are called warming-up exercises, before doing these strenuous and perhaps dangerous things that they go in for. If they warm up for eight or ten minutes regularly at exactly the same time, say five o’clock every day, then at a quarter to five, their body’s beginning to warm up of itself. The pulse rate is telling the muscles to get into tone. You don’t have to do so much warming up. You don’t have that chore of warming the body. It anticipates.

In the same way, if the meditation is done every day at the same place and time, then for about a quarter an hour beforehand, the mind will begin to calm down.  Then, when we sit in meditation, it can reach calmness almost at once. If we haven’t done it every day at the same time, it may take ten minutes or so – just about the same time as it takes an athlete.  But this is not warming up – this is calming down.  The echoes of what one’s been doing in the world keep on going back and forth in the mind; and it takes around ten minutes to calm them down, especially if one’s just had a row or somebody else is having a row, or if there’s been some crisis or anticipation. It takes a little time to drop those off.

There’s an advantage in having a rhythm and, in the same way, some recommend, and it’s a good recommendation, to have a little corner of a room kept with a round meditation cushion just in that corner.  Keep that corner clean. Don’t use it for anything else. Then even the sight of that in passing can produce a calming of the mind. Well, these are hints for the training. One has to become convinced. Then one has to pursue the thing with regularity and also with interest. Not to think, “Oh, well, I don’t know if this is going to come off or not.” If we’ve done the theory, then we know that it will. It’s a question of making the awakening to the power beyond the mind.  Then it will come into our lives.



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