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The first two verses of the Kena Upanishad are:
By whose will and direction does the mind move?
Under whose orders· does the vital force (prana:) move?
Whose will is it that causes men to speak?.
Whose light directs the eye and the ear?
The answer to this great enquiry is given in the following verse.
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.
The wise, relieved of the erroneous notion,
become immortal when they have left this body
I should just say these are things which I’ve heard from my teacher, my own teacher. They’ve helped me and I’ll pass them on. The Kena Upanishad begins with a question: by whom or by what? The Upanishads are like revelations, ecstatic, mystic utterances. Some of them declare. Some of them are to stimulate enquiry in ourselves and this one is an enquiry for ourselves. By whom, by what, is the mind, are our minds prompted? We think, thoughts come, we don’t know where the thoughts come from. Where do they go to? By what prompted? Now, this isn’t going to be one of those academic talks where you take the Upanishad verse by verse …“And now we pass on to verse three where the subject is abruptly changed but not completely,” … and so on.
No, the Upanishads are like flashes of lightning.
To read an Upanishad, simply to read the verses one after another…‘Yes, yes, what.. oh yes, yes etc. etc.’ and then you fall asleep – this is not the way to read an Upanishad. The verse is like a flash of lightning in that we can just see the landscape. If, on a very dark night, you’ve lost your way then there’s a flash of lightning and you can see momentarily the landscape, you can see where you are.
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 eight or ten minutes and try to make out what the landscape was which that lightning flash has illuminated. So in this, I’m taking one or two of the verses only. But 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 quest – in the Upanishadic quest. One can’t, so to speak, sit back in an armchair and just think, ‘We’ll do a little bit and then have a double brandy and then go and watch the television’.
No. We might say, “Well, why should we?” and 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.”
And, in the same way, he said, “The spiritual truths, 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 swimming, so to say, of spiritual swimming, so that when there is a collapse of the world around us we should 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? And we can say, “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 anymore than you find a spiritual direction in the world. You analyse minutely, you don’t find a spirit. You take a broadest view, you don’t find a spirit. You can 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’… and then a voice says, ‘How do we know?’ We cannot see the evidence of it.
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 and bring them up again. And, the same way, the bills are paid and the memos go round and if you analyse 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, a memo goes out.
But there is something which determines the policy of the factory. And 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, I expect there’s something somewhere.’ The Upanishad is experimental.
To give one example of this from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony conducted by Herbert von Karajan, his is the name but if you minutely analyse these sounds you will never hear von 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 named and identified by music but you will never, by analysing the CD 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 plays it, runs itself, the players just play the notes in front of them. The rests, the timing is given. They know 32 bars rest and then a timpani comes in. It’s all written down there, you don’t need a conductor.
But it isn’t so. And if you’ve ever played in an orchestra you know what the function of the conductor is. Or one of them. If you’ve actually played in an orchestra you know that when you’ve got 15 bars rest you’re counting 1 2 3 4, 2 2 3 4, 3 2 3 4, then perhaps the music just slips a little bit … ‘Was I three or four? … 4 2 3 4 … ‘Oh, supposing I come in a bar too soon or a bar too late?’ and 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, and you sit there, and if you’re very young you begin to sweat and the conductor is conducting away and suddenly he looks at you and he brings you in.
That never appears on the tape but it holds the orchestra together and 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 he’s everywhere and that’s why his name is there. Well, 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 MP3s, CDs, records, and tape recordings are everywhere.
In the same way the spirit which conducts the mind, which conducts the world, doesn’t directly appear like a sort of finger doing ‘that’ to the world but gives the promptings.
What prompts the mind to run forth? What prompts the eye to see? What prompts the world? These are, again, simply examples, they’re analogies to try to get us to think and to become aware of something. We say, “Well ,we might become aware of something but what difference is it going to make in our 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 and it’s given in the very early text but 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 very often and you toil up a wave and you come to the top and you think, ‘Perhaps I’ll see something’ and there’s simply another wave beyond it, then you go down, come up, you hope to see something and there’s another one. It can get very depressing and you have to be constantly encouraged and brought on.
In the time of World War Two, during the evacuation from Burma, a lot of the people walked out of Burma and into India. It was a long walk, several hundred miles and they set up little rest places and key camps on the way. It consisted of a set of hills. You’d come round the hill and then you’d see another hill, then you’d have to go round that and then you’d see another hill and you’d have to go around that. As they were coming towards the end, people were getting in a pretty bad way and the helpers, rightly or wrongly as a policy, 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 the people just to do one more hill, and then they’d see another one. And they’d say,“We thought that was the last one”. “Well, they told you that … it’s the last but one.” “This is definitely the last hill,” they’d say. That would get them up and they would go round one more.
The actual last hill is the biggest of all as it happens and people who’ve been encouraged: “Come on, this is the last one”.. and then another.. “ This is the last one”. “ This is definitely the last one”.
They’d come, hill after hill, after hill, there, and then they’d see this final huge hill and they’d be told,“But that’s the last one”. “Oh, we’ve heard that before!” and quite a lot of them laid down and died.
It’s very depressing in the desert under those circumstances but, in modern terms, if you take a helicopter and can go up momentarily, or if you can climb a rock, which is the example given in the old text, you can actually see there are only ten more of these things, then you come down. Now you know with each one, ‘We’re getting closer!’ Another one who hasn’t climbed the rock and doesn’t know where he is, only knows that there’s another hill in front, then there’s 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 the high rock or the tree of the city, or the oasis – once he’s had a glimpse of that when he comes down again, although he’s in the same situation the whole attitude is entirely different. He knows that we’ll reach there.
The teacher says that, in the same way, in this very life, to have a glimpse, through the meditation practice, of immortality, to have 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 doubt it. They’ll be up and down, up and down, up and down. So 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 then when you find that, even a glimpse of that in yourself, you will have had a glimpse of immortality and then, although you are still in the same circumstances in life, life will change, life will change entirely.
Now, as you’ve come and it was said that we would try to give some of the traditional hints on the practice, if you would like to do it (we will begin now). At these times you can’t expect, among strangers in a strange place and also a new practice, any spectacular result – although 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. Now, this is not an Upanishad so I’ll use the little bell.
If you would like to 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. Now, the preliminary practice is this: 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 with the fingernail just between the brows then sit upright and calm and bring the mind back there…
Well, this is a traditional first practice which, in some of the schools, they do always before they begin the more specific practices. It has a calming effect and this is one of the things we can do in the daytime when we’re very upset. Or when we have to wait … when we can have the eyes half shut, but when we’re not constantly fidgeting … ‘Well, when’s the bus coming for God’s sake and hmmm … I suppose they’ll come in threes as they always do.’ No, it can be a great gain even simply to practice this occasionally, for us. Now, what is the power, by which directed, the mind goes to its objects?
There is a practice to begin to search for this, to penetrate into the depths of the mind. Some theory has to be given. Theory, theory as scholarship and learning, has value and it keeps us out of mischief when we’re studying because we’re not doing very much harm to anybody but the traditional teacher says that,“Although learning is very valuable for convincing us about the advantages of practice, it’s not in itself any necessary spiritual advancement, unless it’s accompanied by the practice”.
There is something in us as a later verse says, ‘That by whose power the mind knows but which the mind cannot know, that is Brahman’. ‘Brahman’ 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 and not what the 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 their inner self. In their own mind there’s a distance.
‘That by whose power the mind thinks, of which the mind cannot think.’ ‘That by whose power the eye sees, of which the eye cannot see’ and similarly, ‘That by whose power we speak but which cannot be spoken.’
Now, suppose a short sighted man is looking for his glasses and he looks everywhere and he can’t find them and then a friend comes in and he says,
“You’re looking at them.”
“What? What? No, no, they’re not there”
and the friend says, “You’re looking at them!” and the man looks at the friend and he says, “No, no. Well, where are they then?”
The friend says (again), “You’re looking at them”. “What are you talking about?”
The friend says, “Stand up. Shut your eyes, now feel” and he feels. He’s got them on and the friend says,
“You couldn’t have looked for them if you didn’t have them on – a short sighted 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 don’t see the glasses – they’re looking at objects. But if we withdraw from the objects and shut the eyes, in meditation – now feel – we can feel it: that by whose power the eyes saw but which the eyes could not see and 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 I don’t peer for the object but if I withdraw, yes, I can actually see the glass – but in the ordinary way the eye can’t see it.
Now, 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. With that sort of hint, if you’d like to try and practice again, to 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, ‘Ooh and I could have said that’… No, let it come up and it’ll die down.
Unless we actively support the thoughts with our vital energy they’ll die down. A thought will come up – not wanted – it will die down, another one will come up – not wanted – and die down, you’ve got another one – not wanted – it dies down. Gradually they will come less. Without the strain, simply observe where do the thoughts come from. So if you’d like to try then, to sit, as the thoughts come up, not to enter into them, as it were – not catching their eye – just letting them pass by. Now if you’d like to try for three or four minutes. (BELL) (BELL)
These are forms of training and we can learn from other forms of training too.
An athlete who goes to his regular training period takes 8 minutes, on average, to warm up the body, so that he can begin his specialised, strenuous activity. He doesn’t plunge straight into it, but he does general warming up exercises and after about 8 minutes the blood pressure has risen and the whole body and the tone of the muscles changes and he is ready to undertake these very strenuous and sometimes dangerous activities. But if he exercises at exactly the same time every day, say at 6 o’clock in the evening then, when he’s travelling there to the gymnasium on the bus, at about quarter to six his blood pressure begins to go up so that when he arrives there, already some of the preparation has been achieved by the body in expectation of what’s going to happen.
But that only happens when he establishes this rhythm and does it at the same time and generally at the same place, as all the associations are the same. Now, in the same way, or a little bit the same way, it takes about 8 minutes for the thoughts, on average, to begin to die down. But if we practice at the same time every day and the best time is in the morning – supposing we practice at quarter to seven every morning – then at from about half past six, the mind begins to become calm.
We are already walking around in anticipation of the calm period so that then the pacification can take place more quickly and this is one reason why the teachers recommend us to do the practice at the same time every day. Normally the practices are done for half an hour, at least.
At the beginning, people who have some experience, of course can do more and can, in any case, enter into it more easily but the hints of the same time and the same place, if possible the same circumstances, are of great advantage. Some people will reasonably comfortably be able to sit on the ground. It’s an advantage. Although failing that, it’s alright to sit on a chair but not to lean back in the chair, and preferably the same chair and preferably the same place – a little corner of the room or something like that.
And then at a time of stress, or disturbance, great disappointment, great temptation, great fear, just to see that chair in that corner, and perhaps a sacred picture or a text, that association, will pacify the mind.
The usefulness of associations are known in other forms of training and they can be equally useful in the spiritual training.
One of the most important things is to become convinced that there’s some purpose, there’s some point in doing these things and for this reason the teachers and the Upanishads give so many analogies and so many accounts, so many different lightning flashes. If we go into the (verses), they will be a background of (experience) – it’s not blind faith but it’s to have 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 and 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,”and he supports this with many diagrams and it looks very convincing. And he stops there. He seems to have disposed of (something) – there is no spiritual element. We don’t find it. But if the argument is pursued…
“Yes, well, the brain, yes, the brain – so the brain would consist of molecules and atoms would it not?”
“And the atoms will consist of the subatomic particles?”
“ Mmm .. yes, yes”.
“And is it not the case that now they are beginning to say that the role of the observer is crucial in our physics today? That there has to be an observer?”
“Yes, some schools. Ooh…” and then we arrive at consciousness.
We’ve gone through materialism … more and more material … physics … and then at the very basis of physics there’s this contradiction and the role of the observer begins to come in … and we pass on then … it becomes more and more … the world is seen as consciousness … and we take the Buddhist view that all is simply ideas, that’s all one can know. Ideas.
We’ll end up in consciousness this end. And that seems very satisfactory and then one morning we don’t feel very good, or we have to have an aspirin or something and we think, ‘Well, consciousness, yes, but it’s all related to the brain, isn’t it? The brain’s 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.
It depends whether the condition of the body affects our view and the condition of the mind, and the circumstances of the moment will affect where we are, but it’s a circle as this picture shows by the Dutch artist, Escher of the two hands drawing each other.
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 (from this viewpoint) 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 root of that very hand, we find the root of 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 and we are unable 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 are drawn.
Well, in the same way when the view of the world, materialist view of the world or the view of the world simply as limited consciousness, seems to be dominant, we have to, by experiments, come to find something outside of those two which draws both, so to speak.
And, now if you’d like to try the third practice, just momentarily. To sit there.
‘That by whose power the mind thinks of which the mind cannot think, know that to be Brahman, not what the people worship. ’
Now, 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, have a glimpse. All our thoughts are changing. They are 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 the clouds on it, some of them brilliant, some of them beautiful, some of them dark and threatening, they come and they go and they pass. Now, if you’d like to try to look. Not to try to think it but to try to become aware, in calm awareness, not thinking, in calm awareness of that under whose light the mind thinks.
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 have tremendous energy. He can alternate the two. The beginner’s always tense, but an expert knows. We can bring order into our mind and we practice bringing order into our mind but it doesn’t mean that we’re not to be concentrated and tense at other times. We are much more effective then, because we have both sides.
But 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, is a great relief and then there is something like the blue sky and from that we come into touch with the divine will and we shall be in accord with the inner lines of the situation and there will be help.
Now, to illustrate this is a story that has to be understood about my teacher. When he was a young Brahmin in India he was, even then, a great scholar and well known as a pundit. But he thought it was his Brahmanical duty of visiting the afflicted. There was a lunatic asylum on the outskirts of the city where he was. It was a sizeable building and then they had a big field, partly gardened field, with a small lake in it and a high wall and the inmates were there. Well, he was known to the warders, the guardians and he used to go and talk to the inmates, those in their calmer moments who could talk to him. And one day he went there when the warders were cleaning the building.
So all the inmates were in the garden. It was a fine day. And some were shouting and some were muttering and some were singing and some were sitting and looking and so on. And so the warders passed him through. There were no warders in the garden as it happened. They were all engaged in cleaning the building. So he went into the garden and he told me that two or three of them came up and he was talking to one of them.
Two or three others came up and they said, “Oh, Shastri, he’s a good fellow, let’s drown him.”
And the others said, “Oh, yes, yes, let’s do that”.
There were no warders there.
He knew if he shouted for help, he didn’t say this, but if he’d shouted for help, that would just be another shout, and there were quite a lot of casual shouts from the inmates in the garden.
So he said, “My friends, I agree. But I ask you to give me a good send off”. So they said, ‘Well, er, yes, yes”.
He said, “I want you all together to shout three times, Pandit Hari Prasad Shastri Ki Jai”.
That means a sort of hurrah for Pandit Hari Prasad Shastri.
So they said, “Well, oh, yes, alright,”
and so they stopped taking him to the lake momentarily and they all joined in and they shouted at the top of their voices:
“Pandit Hari Prasad Shastri Ki Jai, Pandit Hari Prasad Shastri Ki Jai”.
When the warders heard this ‘orderly’ sound coming from the field, they realised something was up and they came running out and they rescued him. Well, he didn’t draw this conclusion (for us), he just told us the story. But the casual shouting and noise didn’t bring help and couldn’t bring help, wouldn’t bring help. But it could when it became orderly.
Well, these stories are told us for a purpose, to think about. But if we, 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. I just tell this as an example of the way we are expected to think about these spiritual instances and the lives of spiritual people and we can draw lessons for our own lives from them.
Not just to clap, “Oh, bravo, wasn’t that wonderful” but to apply it to our own lives when we’re in great trouble – to bring our minds, even momentarily, into order, through one of these practices and then the help will come.
One of the things is that there is a pattern in the universe. It seems to have no pattern. We’re here by chance. We’re thrown in by chance. Some of us have good luck, some of us have bad luck.
Sometimes we get a stream of good luck. When that happens to me I think, ‘Ooh, there are reasons for these things, no doubt’. Other people have bad luck and I think, ‘Ooh, there are reasons for that, no doubt’. But the fact is, it seems all like chance. And one of the advantages is to be able to discern a pattern.
Questions from the audience:
Question 1: I wonder whether only by just exerting one’s mind, one can see the pattern behind anything or not – or just the inspiration comes, just in a moment when one is perhaps keeping his mind only open.
TL: Well, thank you for the comment. The inspiration has to be preceded by a period of focusing. Otherwise, there’s nothing definite for which that inspiration, on which that inspiration can shed light. And therefore the search for the pattern is a period of concentration and focusing.
Then, as you say, it can often happen that my egoism is tied up. I must solve this … And then sometimes by looking out of the window and sometimes by going into meditation we can drop this ‘I must’ and the previous focus still remains and then the light will shine on it without my getting in the way, so to speak. This was the analysis our teacher gave. Anyway, thank you very much for that.
Question 2: That to the developed mind of the adult … all the theories and all the principles which are taught … how far are they going to help him without his own experience?
TL: No, they won’t help without his own experience. But they can be a great help to our experience. In India I used to play chess sometimes with natural chess players. They were extraordinarily good on tactics but they didn’t know the theory of chess as it has been developed over 150 years in the West. And I knew some of that theory. Now, the theory will tell us the first ten moves of, say, the French defence. And it means that those first ten moves have been worked out over 150 years by the best masters of chess. After that of course, I’m on my own.
But they can give me an advantage if I know them. Now, I would play the French defence against a natural Indian player and he could not, in fifteen minutes, work out what had taken 150 years of the best masters to know and so I had an advantage, the theory gave me an advantage. But after that, yes, then I had to win the game. Although I had a superior position from the knowledge of the theory, the theory could not play the game for me entirely.
Well, in the same way, if we learn to type, the natural way to do it is with two fingers ‘like that’ and theory will tell us no, use ten fingers. It’s very unnatural and awkward but that’s the way to learn to type. My own method will be like ‘that’.. but it won’t be so good as the method that’s been worked out by the experts. But after that, when I’ve learned the expert method, now I have to type.
And please don’t forget that when we refer to all the theories and the principles handed down to us. They have been handed down to you by those who had experience. We’re only taking advantage of their experience. But you experiment in your own life, then it will become your knowledge. Until then it is second hand knowledge.
Question 3: With reference to the Chinese practice of how they usually devote a long time to thinking, contemplating over the whole issue, all the aspects of their painting and then suddenly the moment of inspiration comes, perhaps, and they start doing it. And the questioner himself experienced the same thing in his life. How far is it really relevant to anybody in his own life?
TL: A brief Chinese comment on it is this: that if your hands are filthy you can’t paint, or cook, or do anything like that. You have to wash the hands. Then you can paint and you can cook and you can do anything useful. Well, in the same way, in the ordinary way, I’m full of myself, what I’m going to get out of the painting, whether people will admire it or whether I’ll admire it myself. My egoism is so displayed that they call it filthy.
Filthy hands and filthy face. Now, they say, “Wash your hands and wash your face”.
Get rid of all that, and it can take days to do it.
And then, you see, when your hands are clean and your face is clean and your spirit is clean, then you will be able to meet the spirit of the landscape.
[From a lecture by Trevor Leggett]
© Trevor Leggett