Sunday, January 23, 2011

Talk at St. Mary's Star of the Sea Church 1/20/2011, Longboat Key, FL

Thank you for having me here today.

What is life?

About three years ago, 2 events occurred in my life that changed my way of looking at life. One was the death of my grandmother and the other was the birth of my daughter a few months later. My grandmother was sick for quite sometime before she passed away. She always kept a smile on her face despite all her difficulties and she always told me “have only one mood, and that is a good mood”. She lived this principle all her life. I was at her bedside when she took her last breath and she departed with a smile on her face. Everyone around her, family, close friends were either weeping, crying or sad. A few months later, my daughter was born here in Sarasota. As all newborns do, the first thing she did was to cry for 5 minutes. Everyone around her were all overjoyed at the new arrival and the mood was generally very happy. Contrast these 2 situations. When my grandmother died, she was the only one smiling while everyone else was crying. When my daughter was born, she was the only one crying while everyone else was laughing and smiling. So, we all enter the world crying and leave with a smile. Everything in between is what we call life.

Relative Happiness

The goal of all humans beings on the planet regardless of country or religion is happiness. Depending on one’s circumstances in life, the definition of happiness is different. I was in India last year. One day I happened to stop by a construction site and asked one of the workmen what his definition of happiness was. He said that he would be very happy if he had a car like his boss, so he would not have to walk 5 miles everyday to work. I suggested to him that perhaps his daily walk to work was keeping him very healthy. He looked very fit. He disagreed and said that a car would make him happy. I then went to his boss and asked him what would make him happy. He was overweight and looked out of shape. He had a real nice car and seemed prosperous. He said that he was a diabetic and being healthy again and not requiring medications would make him happy. I asked him if he would trade his car in if he could regain his health back, he said yes. What a contrast. One with wealth thinks health would bring happiness and the one with health thinks wealth would bring happiness.

This example goes to show that our constant search for external sources of happiness is all relative. We have five searchlights going out into the world constantly looking for things that would make us happy. These five search lights are the five senses. Through these five senses, we are able to see, smell, hear, touch and taste things. These are called the sensory inputs. Where do these inputs end up. They end up in our brain. Our physical brains process these sensory inputs in the form of chemical and electrical signals and these are then projected onto our consciousness. Consciousness is awareness that we are here, we are living breathing entities. Consciousness by itself does not give us pleasure or pain.

What is the mind?

Between the sense organs and consciousness lies our mind and intellect. The mind is the interface between consciousness, that is awareness of being here and the sense organs which bring in impulses from the outside world. Our mind is where we manipulate these sense inputs and develop likes and dislikes. We tend to crave what we don’t have and disregard and take for granted what we have.

We have what we call free will. Through free will or will power, we can exercise restraint over our minds and sense organs. Most of the difficulties we face in life is because the sense organs and our mind have usurped this power. Let’s take a horse drawn cart as an example. Think of the horse as the sense organs. The cart is the mind. The person driving the cart is you. If you were to drive the cart, you would make the horse go in the direction that you want it to go and not the other way around. Unfortunately, we let your senses and our minds dictate who we are and we exercise no control over them.

In our minds, we have the ability to manipulate our sensory inputs and project it on the screen of our minds as thoughts. Of the millions of thoughts that go through our heads, certain thought patterns tend to stick out and if we persist in thinking out these thoughts over and over again, these lead to actions and if these actions are repeated over and over, they lead to habits. If habits persist and are repeated, it could lead to change of character. In this way, a simple thought can lead to who we become in this world. Some of the greatest achievements of the last century were mental achievements, such as Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Our mind can be our friend or foe depending on how we use it. Defining the mind is not easy. It is not something that you can grasp with your hand, it is not visualized. Man has the ability to take photographs of distant galaxies, but is unable to take a picture of his own mind. Mind has a form. This is reflected in what people think of us. When we talk about people being happy or sad, generous or stingy, calm or angry we are not talking about their physical forms. We are talking about their personalities, which is turn is a reflection of our mind. The language of the body is speech. The language of the mind is vibration. We have all had experiences, where we walk into a room full of people and we can sometimes feel good or bad vibes. These “vibes” are the language of the mind.

Does the mind change?

During the course of our lifetime, our minds also change. Just after we are born, our minds are limited in scope. As we change physically, going through stages of childhood, youth, adulthood and then our golden years, so do our minds. Our minds are pliable and easily influenced in our childhood years. As we get older we get set in our ways and our minds also become more rigid.

Our life’s journey can be compared to a river. The general course of the river is like the general direction in which we lead our lives. Just as a river has individual drops of water, the course of our lives is defined by the sum of our thoughts. Take the Colorado as an example. It is one of the great rivers of the world. All rivers start at a high point and end up in the sea. What is unique about the Colorado. It is considered special because people recognize certain attributes that are not found in other rivers. It carved out the Grand Canyon, one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. Similarly, all human beings are for the most part similar, We all have 2 hands, two feet, a set of eyes and so forth. What separates us is our mental propensities. Our current state of mind is distilled from all our prior thought patterns, experiences and exposure to differing environments.

As you all know, the Colorado River starts in the Western Rocky  mountains and courses through Colorado, Arizona and California and then ends up in the Gulf of California part of the Pacific Ocean. Now divide up the course of the river into 4 parts. The Colorado originates in the Western Rockies. It starts off as a tiny stream of water. As it courses down the mountains, it is joined by other streams and starts taking the form of a river. Now the river is in its “childhood”. Similarly in our childhood, our minds and our thinking patterns are being shaped by various influences, just like many streams joining together to form the Colorado River.  Next,  the river runs through narrow mountains and gets more powerful forming raging white water rapids. These rapids have a lot of pent up energy that creates powerful currents crashing against rocks. This part of the river’s course can be compared to our youth. During our youth, our minds are very active, some are very ambitious, in good and bad ways. During this time it is very important to channel this mental energy in the right fashion. The next phase of the journey of the river is when it leaves the mountain valleys and enters the plains. It is much larger, the flow is more gentle and predictable. This phase of the river’s course can be compared to our adult lives. For the most part, our mental tendencies are more predictable and by this time, our habits and traits have taken shape and we have now set the course of our lives. Finally, the river then enters the last phase of its journey prior to ending in the ocean. This can be compared to our golden years. During this phase of our lives, we tend to reflect back on our past achievements and failures. We either spend our days in regret about what ifs or we look back at our achievements with satisfaction. At this point the river is about to merge into the ocean and it is too late for the river to now change its course. However, with the mind, it is never too late to change our thinking. In our childhood, it is very easy to change our thought patterns, during our youth, it is easy but takes more effort. It takes even more effort to do this during our working adult lives as we are busy engaged in making money, earning name, fame etc. Very little time is devoted to reflection and introspection.

A river flows from the mountain down to the sea and reaches its goal of merging with the sea despite all the obstacles to its flow encountered along the way. Some rivers have carved out some of the greatest natural wonders of the world. The Colorado river and the Grand Canyon is an example of that. Similarly, we should set a goal for our lives and persevere despite any difficulties we may endure. If Thomas Edison had not persevered and invented the light bulb, we would be having this talk by candlelight.

Just as individual drops of water come together forming a river, individual thoughts come together and defines our propensities and this shapes the course of our lives. In order to change our circumstances or change the course of our lives, these individual thoughts need to be refined and they need to reflect what we want to do in life. It is not easy changing thought patterns. Before we go about doing this, we need stillness of mind. Then we are able to see and differentiate between beneficial and not so beneficial thought patterns. This stillness of mind is sometimes referred to as meditation. In the depths of this stillness, you will find a well of happiness that is not conditioned by the external world. Once you have this inner happiness, you will not go looking for external happiness. When this happens, you are able to free up your minds to use your mind and sense faculties for doing things that are productive and useful.

Mind control

Now the next question is how do we control the mind? I would argue that it is probably one of the most difficult tasks ever attempted. To successfully do that, you have to rewind the mental tape all the way back to your childhood and erase all the imprints and rewrite your life experiences in your mind. Unless you have a time machine, it is almost impossible to achieve.

The other way to approach it is to step away from the mind and allow the mind to play and wander but not follow the dictates of the mind. Nourish and encourage only useful and positive thoughts. Take the bee and the fly as an example. The bee seeks out only nectar laden flowers, the fly does not have any such discrimination. It sits on sugar and garbage. We should be like the bee, seeking out only things that are good and beneficial. Also the bee collects little drops of nectar and builds a large bee hive. Everyone in the world has something to offer. If we give and take even a little bit of good from each one we meet, we can build a giant bee hive of goodwill. When we have this discrimination, we automatically suggest to ourselves that we are not the mind, as there is something higher than the mind that is helping the mind discriminate between good and bad. Our names refer to our physical bodies. Our physical bodies are associated with, but not part of the mind. So in this way, we are able to say that we are not the body, we are not the mind. If we are not the body or the mind, certainly we are not the senses which are below the mind. Using our intellect we can see our minds and can observer the wanderings of the mind. So we have another dimension called the intellect, which is our power to differentiate between what is beneficial and that which is not.. We are not this either as we are able to to speak of this in third person. Who we really are is otherwise called the soul. The soul is part of the universal conciousness that has become the individualized conciousness. This individualized conciousness then becomes identified with the intellect, mind, senses, passions, and the elements of earth, water, air, space, and fire. This is why the Self is said to consist of this and that, and appears to be everything.

So when people talk of the inner journey, the essence of this is to strip away identification of the individualized counciousness with identification with the intellect, mind, senses and external elements. If we are able to do this successfully, we will be able to unfog the mirror that clouds our vision of our own selves.

Our minds are positioned right in the center of this mix. That is why it is said that the mind is the source of bondage to the world and our key to liberation from it. Take a body of water like a lake If the waters are really still, you may be able to see the bottom of the lake. If the waters are disturbed, you see the lake and the waves that are created by the disturbance. The mind is like the lake. Still the mind and you may be able to see your soul or your individualized conciousness. If your mind is identified and busy with the intellect, passions and the senses, you will see them as the ups and downs of life or the relative happiness or sorrows or life.

Guided meditation

Now let’s try and see this mind of ours. If everyone is comfortably seated, looks like you all are, please close your eyes and follow along. I will try to take you on a journey within. Without trying to control your thoughts or think of anything, I would like everyone to observe the thoughts running across your mind, like you would in a movie. Some thoughts may be connected in sequence, others may occur in seemingly random fashion. Let’s observe and enjoy this mind movie.

3 minutes.

Now, just as you would in a movie theatre, walk away from this mind movie while it is playing. Leave the thoughts running without attempting to control them. Gradually bring your attention to your nostrils. Watch your breathing. Let your body breathe in whatever rhythm it was doing it in before you started to observe it. All you are doing is watching the breathing process. Gradually you will start to observe the rhythm of the incoming and the outgoing breath.

You will then notice that the incoming breath is cooler than the outgoing breath. Continue to observe your breath.

Now imagine that each incoming breath is a new source of water for the river of thoughts called your life. With each breath “adding precious water to the river of your life”. Nobody likes polluted rivers. Everyone likes fresh clean lakes and rivers. With each breath you are adding fresh clean waters of calmness, purity of mind, joy and contentment.

Each breath is the beginnings of the river. Keep adding the qualities of calmness, purity of mind, joy, contentment and health. Now follow the breath and direct it to the point between your eyebrows. This is where your river of life starts. Keeping adding calmness, purity of mind, joy, contentment and thoughts of good health to your river. Focus on this for now. Each time you catch your mind wandering, think of calmness, purity of mind, joy, contentment and thoughts of good health.

Now, imagine this river flowing from the point between your eyebrows to your head and neck. The waters of this river are calmness, purity of mind, joy, contentment and thoughts of good health. It flows down your neck into your arms, your chest and abdomen. Direct it down your legs to your feet. Once you are saturated in these waters of calmness, purity of mind, joy, contentment and good health, give your friends and neighbour these pure waters. Before long, everyone that you know or don’t know has tasted these waters. Just as river waters flow into the ocean, evaporate and come down as rainwater feeding the river again, the thoughts you have created now will blend into the ocean of humanity and will come back to you in the same manner as you put it out.

Thank you. Please open your eyes at your own pace.