(24 November 1990)
I should just say, these are things which I’ve heard from my own teacher. They’ve helped me and I passed them on. Now, the Upanishad which Dr. Upadhyaya quoted (Upanishads are often known by the first word in them), the first word in this Upanishad, as you heard, is Kena: ‘by whom’ or ‘by what’. It begins with a question.
The Upanishads are like revelations, ecstatic, mystic utterances. Some of them declare, some of them are to stimulate inquiry in ourselves. This one is an inquiry for ourselves – by whom, by what, are our minds prompted? We think, thoughts come. We don’t know where the thoughts come from. Where do they go to, by what are they prompted?
Now, this isn’t going to be one of those academic talks where you take the Upanishad verse by verse. “Now we pass on to verse 3, where the subject is abruptly changed, but not completely relev-” and so on. No. The Upanishad are like flashes of lightning. If you read an Upanishad, simply reading the verses one after another, “Yes, yes. Well, oh, yes, yes, yes.” – then you fall asleep. This is not the way to read an Upanishad.
The verse is like a flash of lightning in which we can just see the landscape. If you’ve been on a very dark night, you’ve lost your way. Then there’s a flash of lightning and you can see momentarily the landscape and you can see where you are. Now in the same way, when we read an Upanishad, we should not read verse 1, verse 2, verse 3. We should read one verse and then withdraw perhaps for 8 or 10 minutes and try to make out what the landscape was, which that lightning flash has illumined.
In this talk I’m taking one or two of the verses only, to try to give a hint of how to go into them. The whole mind and the whole personality and the deep layers underneath the mind must be involved in the upanishadic quest. One can’t, so to speak, sit in an armchair and just think, “Well, I’ll do a little bit, and then have a double brandy and then go and watch the television.” No.
We can say, “Well, why should we?” One teacher has said this, “When your ship is sinking, it’s too late to learn to swim. You should have learned to swim long ago, perhaps before you went to sea. That was the time to learn to swim.” In the same way he said, “So with the spiritual truth – when the crisis is on us, it’s too late then.” Now is the time to study and to go into them and to find the method of, so to say, spiritual swimming, so that when there is a collapse of the world around us, we shall be able to swim. We’ll find a sort of buoyancy inside ourselves, and we shall know how to meet the disasters.
‘By whom, prompted is the mind directed?’ We can say, “Well, we don’t find anything. The mind directs itself. It goes on by itself. However much you examine and look, you don’t find this Spirit in the mind, any more than you find a spiritual direction in the world. You analyze minutely – you don’t find a spirit. You take the broadest view – you don’t find a spirit. You could believe for a time, ‘Oh, yes there must be something directing the mind. There must be some power beyond the mind. There must be some power directing the universe. I’m sure, I believe it. I believe it.’ Then the voice says, ‘Well, how do we know? We cannot see the evidence of it.’”
In the same way, if you examine the memos in a factory, you would think the factory runs itself. When the raw material levels go down, there’s a memo from stock to the buyers and they buy more. They bring them up again. The same way the bills are paid, and the memos go round. If you analyze those memos, you will find a complete operation of the factory. You don’t need a managing director. The factory operates itself. Automatically when the stocks go down, the memo goes out.
But there is something which determines the policy of the factory. That is often in a very small room and that room may contain nothing but perhaps a fax machine. But there is a directive which integrates the working of the factory and makes it able to change.
We can say, “Oh, well, yes, but how do we know? How do we know? Everything in the factory can be accounted for. Everything in the mind can be accounted for. Everything in the world can be accounted for. Where is this spiritual direction?” Now, the point has to be pressed. In this Upanishad, the point is pressed. Not thinking, “Oh, well, yes, I expect there’s something somewhere.” The Upanishad is experimental. Now, to give one example of this.
This is the Beethoven Seventh and the cassette says, “Conducted by Karajan.” His is the name, but if you minutely analyze these sounds, you will never hear Karajan. You’ll hear the flute, and the flute player could be found and named. You’ll hear the cellos, you’ll hear the leader. They can all be found and identified minutely, but you will never by analyzing the tape and the sounds identify the conductor. You’ll never hear him. Why is his name on here? He’s not playing.
People think an orchestra runs itself. The players just play the notes in front of them. Timing is given. They know 32 bars’ rest and then the timpani comes in. It’s all written down there – you don’t need a conductor. But it isn’t so. If you’ve ever played in an orchestra, you’ll know what the function of the conductor is, or one of them. You’ll know that when you’ve got 15 bars’ rest, you’re counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 2, 2, 3, 4… Then, perhaps the music just slips a little bit. It’s like, “Was that I, 2, 3 or 4, 2, 3. Ah, suppose I come in a bar too soon or bar too late.” You begin to panic and then you try to listen to the others, but you can’t remember what they should be playing at bar 34. You can’t remember. You sit there and if you’re very young, you begin to sweat. The conductor was conducting away and suddenly he looks at you and he brings you in.
That never appears on the tape. It holds the orchestra together. Without it, the orchestra would soon disintegrate and if you’ve ever heard an orchestra disintegrate – even with simply a very bad conductor, who doesn’t give the cues – you know what can happen. The conductor doesn’t appear and yet he’s everywhere. He’s setting the tempos and that’s why his name is there. This is only an example, and it’s an example which is especially convincing to musicians, but we can mostly understand it these days when cassettes are everywhere.
In the same way, the Spirit which conducts the mind, which conducts the world, doesn’t directly appear like the conductor’s finger, but gives the promptings – what prompts the mind to run forth, what prompts the eye to see, what prompts the world.
Again, these are simply examples. They’re analogies to try to get us to think and to become aware of something. We say, “Oh, we might become aware of something, but what difference is it going to make in your ordinary life supposing there is a Spirit? You’re still in the same situation.” It’s not a question of shuffling the cards of life and dealing them out again, hoping that by shuffling you’ll somehow get more aces. No, there’s still only four aces. One example is this – it’s given in the very early texts and we can have a more compelling form now.
Deserts aren’t sort of flat as one tends to think of them. They’re in waves of sand and you toil up one wave and come to the top, and you think, “Now, perhaps I’ll see something”. But there’s simply another wave beyond it. You come up, you hope to see something, but there’s another one. It can get very depressing, and you have to be constantly encouraged and brought on.
In the time of the Second World War, there was an evacuation from Burma – a lot of the people walked out of Burma into India. It was a long walk, several hundred miles, and they set up little rest places and tea camps on the way. It consisted of a set of hills, so you’d come around one hill and then you’d see another one; then you’d have to go around that, and you’d see another hill. As they were coming towards the end, people were getting in a pretty bad way. The helpers, rightly or wrongly, sometimes used to say to the people, “Look, this is the last hill, the last hill to go round. Then you’ll be safe, you’ll be in India. You’ll be safe, you’ll be across the border” – and that would get some people just to do one more hill. But then they’d see another one, and they’d say, “We thought that was the last one.” “Well, they told you that. It was the last but one. This is definitely the last hill” – and that would get them up, they’d go round one more. Well, the actual last hill is the biggest of all as it happens, and people who’d been encouraged to come on, they’d come there and they’d see this huge hill and they’d be told, “But this is the last one.” “Oh, we’ve heard that before.” Quite a lot of them laid down and died.
Now, it’s very depressing in the desert under those circumstances but, in modern times, you can take a helicopter and can go up momentarily and you can actually see there are only ten more of these things. You come down and now you know with each one you’re getting closer. The other one who hasn’t [seen those hills] doesn’t know where he is. He only knows that there’s another hill in front, and then another hill… He doesn’t know how many there are and he’ll tend to give up. But the one who’s had a glimpse from the helicopter, or a high rock or a tree of the oasis, once he’s had a glimpse of that, when he comes down again, although he’s in the same situation, his whole attitude is entirely different. He knows that he’ll be there.
The teacher says that in the same way, in this very life, we should have a glimpse, through the meditation practice, of immortality, just a glimpse of immortality in this life. Then we will know that after death, there is immortality. Whereas the people who haven’t had that glimpse, they can believe that they’ll go on, or sometimes they’ll doubt it, they’ll be up and down, up and down, up and down. The teacher says, through this knowledge you will have a glimpse of immortality. What is it that prompts the mind to move? Try to identify that and when you find that, even a glimpse of that in yourself, you will have had a glimpse of immortality. Then, although you’re still in the same circumstances in life, life will change, life will change entirely.
Now, it was said that we would try to give some of the traditional hints on the practice. At these times, among strangers in a strange place and also a new practice, you can’t expect any spectacular result. It can happen, but it’s not to be expected – but by practising together, just momentarily, even for a minute, we can just get a little hint at the practice. So, if you like, sit comfortably, but reasonably upright – the hint given is as if you were on horseback looking into the distance. Then allow the eyes to shut. The preliminary practice is just to touch with your fingernail the spot between the eyebrows and use the after-sensation to bring the mind back there. We’ll just do it for a minute. Touch the fingernail just between the brows, then sit upright and calm and bring the mind back there.
This is a traditional first practice which, in some of the schools, they always do before they begin the more specific practices. It has a calming effect, and is one of the things we can do in the daytime when we’re very upset or when we have to wait. Then we can have the eyes half-shut and we’re not constantly fidgeting, “Well, when’s the bus coming for God sake? [sighs] I suppose they’ll come in three’s as they always do.” It can be a great gain even simply to practise this occasionally for us.
What is the power by which directed, the mind goes to its objects? Now those that practise begin to search for this, to penetrate into the depths of the mind. Some theory has to be given. Theory as in scholarship and learning has its value and keeps us out of mischief because, when we’re studying, we’re not doing very much harm to anybody. But the traditional teachers say that, although learning is very valuable for convincing us about the advantages of practice, it doesn’t in itself lead to spiritual advancement – unless it’s actually accompanied by practice.
There is something in us and the later verse says, “That by whose power the mind knows, but which the mind cannot know, that is Brahman.” Brahman is the word that means literally, or meant originally, ‘majestic’; but it’s the word used for the Absolute. That is Brahman – that which the mind cannot grasp, but by whose power the mind grasps. That is Brahman. Not what people worship. People worship something outside themselves, and they want to get advantages and to be rescued. It’s not wrong to do that, but they’re not yet touching reality because they’re not finding it directly touching in themselves, in their own mind. There’s a distance.
‘That by whose power the mind thinks, but which the mind cannot think.’ That by whose power the eye sees, but which the eye cannot see; and similarly, that by whose power we speak, but which cannot be spoken. Suppose a shortsighted man is looking for his glasses. He looks everywhere, but he can’t find them. Then a friend comes in and he says, “You’re looking at them.” He said, “What? What? What? No. No. They’re not there.” The friend says, “You’re looking at them.” He looks. The friend says, “You’ve got them on. Stand up and shut your eyes. Now feel.” He feels. “I’ve got them on.” The friend says, “You couldn’t have looked for them, if you didn’t have them on – a shortsighted man like you. How could you have looked for them? How could you have said they’re not here anyway?”
That by whose power the eyes were seeing, but which the eyes could not see – because when the glasses are on the eyes they don’t see the glasses, they’re looking at objects. If we withdraw from objects, shut the eyes in meditation and then feel, we can feel it. ‘That by whose power the eyes saw, of which the eyes could not see.’ Then later on, when we open the eyes and look through the glasses, if we look very, very carefully we can actually see the glass. If we don’t peer for the object, but withdraw – yes we can actually see the glasses; but in the ordinary way, the eye can’t see it. ‘That which the mind cannot think, but by whose power the mind thinks. Know that to be Brahman, not what the people worship as an object’.
Now, with that sort of hint, if you like, try to practise again. Sit up comfortably, but reasonably, erect and close the eyes and then look at the thoughts coming up. Don’t enter into them. If the thought of a quarrel comes up, don’t think, “Oh, I could have said that.” No. Let it come and let it die down. Unless we actively support the thoughts with our vital energy, they’ll die down. Another one will come up and that will die down; another one will come up – ‘Not wanted’ – and die down and gradually they will become less. Now, without strain simply observe where the thoughts come from. Just sit and as the thoughts come up try not to enter into them – as it were, not catching their eye, but just letting them pass by.
One of the most important things is to become convinced that there’s some purpose, there’s some point in doing these things. For this reason, in the upanishads, the teachers give so many analogies, so many accounts, so many different lightning flashes. If we go into them there will be a background of, not blind faith, but a good reason for entering on the thing and beginning to pursue it.
The world periodically can seem to us self-sufficient, it can seem entirely material. We read or we hear some neurologist talking about the brain and the mind and he says, “Well, the mind is simply a brain function, that’s all.” He supports this with many diagrams and it looks very convincing. He stops there and he seems to have disposed of any spiritual element. “We don’t find it”. But if the argument is pursued, “Yes, well, it’s the brain”. “The brain would consist of molecules and atoms, would it not?” “Yes.” “And the atoms will consist of the subatomic particles, fundamental articles.” “Yes.” “Is it not so that now they are beginning to say that the role of the observer is crucial in physics today, that there has to be an observer?” “Yes, in some schools.”
“Well, then we arrive with consciousness. We’ve gone through materialism, more and more material physics and then, at the very basis of physics, there’s this contradiction. The role of the observer begins to come in. And we pass on then – more and more the world is seen as consciousness and we take the Buddhist view that all is simply ideas, it’s all one can know, ideas – ending up with consciousness.” That seems very satisfactory. Then one morning we don’t feel very good. We have to have an aspirin or something. We think, “Well, consciousness – yes; but of course it’s all related to the brain, isn’t it? The brain is not functioning very well, then consciousness isn’t functioning very well, is it?” Then we’re back in the neurology again and it goes in a circle. “Probably the condition of the body affects our view, and the condition of the mind and the circumstances of the memory will affect where we are” – but it’s a circle.
You know the picture of the two hands which are drawing each other. It’s a Dutch artist, Escher. You can see the hands are drawing each other and the materialist hand, so to speak, is drawing brain function and consciousness and all we know. These are all just functions of the brain. The materialist hand is drawing that. But if we go down the materialist hand and look at the very root of that hand, we find it is in the ultimate particles of physics which are now beginning to depend on an observer. Then we’re on the other hand, the hand of the observing consciousness. We pursue that and continue like that and then that leads finally to the other hand again, the materialist hand – because consciousness seems to develop from the brain. We’re not able to find any evidence of consciousness existing outside the brain. So, it’s a circle.
But if we penetrate one step deeper, we see something has drawn these hands. Something outside has drawn these hands – and that’s hinted at by the fact that the paper is shown there on which they’re drawn. In the same way, while the materialist view of the world, or the view of the world simply as limited consciousness, seems to be dominant, we have to come, by these experiments, to find something outside those two which draws both, so to speak.
Now, if you like, try the third practice, just momentarily. ‘That by whose power the mind thinks of which the mind cannot think. Know that to be Brahman, not what the people worship.’ Now, it’s not to try to think something, but to become aware of the light under which our thoughts rise and fall. There is a light and by calmly looking, we can become just aware, a glimpse, that all our thoughts are changing. They’re all dying, rising and dying. We ourselves are rising and dying. The world, all the objects in the world are rising and dying. But there’s something which doesn’t rise and die, which is like the blue sky, steady and unchanging, while clouds are in it. Some of them are brilliant, some of them beautiful, some of them dark and threatening. They come and go, and they pass.
It’s a great advantage in life, to be able to bring our minds to pacification. An athlete knows how to relax, as well as finding this tremendous energy. He can alternate the two. A beginner’s always tense. But an expert knows, “No, it’s alright now”. When we practise bringing order into our minds, it doesn’t mean that we are not to be concentrated and tense at other times; but we are much more effective then, because we have both sides. If we can bring order, then it was said, “That which the mind cannot think, which the mind cannot grasp, but by whose power the mind grasps, know that to be Brahman.” We can translate, “Know that to be God”. Bringing the mind to this pacification, laying down this tremendous excitement, of egoity, and fear, and temptation, and arrogance. It’s a great relief.
Then, there’s something like the blue sky. From that, we come in touch with the Divine will, and we shall be in accord with the inner lines of the situation. There will be help. In times of great difficulty, if we even momentarily bring our minds to order, bring the uproar and shouting, and the yelling and the despair and the tears, in our mind to order, then help will come.