Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Inner Rainbow

Based on a talk given at the Dattoli Cancer Center, Sarasota, Florida. April 12, 2011

Remember the clear light, the pure clear white light from which everything in the universe comes, to which everything in the universe returns; the original nature of your own mind. The natural state of the universe unmanifest. Let go into the clear light, trust it, merge with it. It is your own true nature, it is home.
- Tibetan Book of the Dead

This succinct description of the mind helps us go back to basics and helps us find our roots whenever we are troubled by thought forms which can be infinite in variety. When you close your eyes, you may see a million different thoughts pass through your mind’s eye. If you are able to “turn” around and back project all these thought forms, the mind may appear as a tiny dot of white light. Imagine a cone of light coming from a spot very deep within your brain that carries with it thoughts. Thoughts appear like the intermingling of tumbling dust particles that show up when the afternoon sun peeks through a window into a dark room. As this cone of thoughts, lit up by your mental energy, dissipates away from its source it starts to form mental images that we see with our eyes closed.

In the above description of the nature of the mind, the mind in its purest form is likened to a beacon of clear white light. Our sun is a natural source of visible white light. Light is a basic essential requirement for us to live our daily lives. Our existence would be quite different and possibly monotonous to a lot of us if everything around us was visible only as white light. Luckily, white light is a composite of different colors. When this white light hits a prism, it is broken down into seven primary colors of the visible light spectrum. Each of these seven colors, namely violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red are related to different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. The rainbow that you see in the sky is a representation of this. From these seven primary colors, infinite variety of colors can be derived making life very colorful.

If mind is compared to a beam of light in its basic form, there needs to be a source of electricity. The human brain is a store house of electricity. This electricity generated in the brain powers all our bodily functions. Electricity is a very pliable form of energy. It can be used in a multitude of ways. On a day to day basis, we constantly use this energy for basic tasks of life such as our motor and sensory functions. The human brain has separate areas for these motor and sensory functions. When you touch an object, this information is carried to the brain via sensory nerves. Once you have touched an object, processed the sensory information and want to grasp it, motor nerves kick in which power appropriate muscle groups that may be involved in lifting that object. This seemingly simple task requires transmission of information to and from the brain along nerve pathways. Every part of the body has a network of nerves. The information from all these nerves travel to and from the brain via the spinal highway.

A lot of our bodily functions are under our conscious control. Vital bodily functions such as our survival mechanism involving the “fight or flight” response, hormonal production (estrogen and testosterone), digestion of food, immunity, regulation of metabolism are all under direct supervision of the brain and central nervous system. Some of these key bodily functions are governed by the endocrine glands. These endocrine glands are located at seven locations along a vertical axis that runs from the brain to the lower part of the spinal cord. These endocrine glands are associated with seven bundles of nerves also referred to as plexuses that come out of the spinal cord. Endocrine glands directly send their end products (known as hormones) into the blood stream.

These endocrine glands include the adrenal glands which produces cortisol-a stress hormone, the gonads which produce testosterone and estrogen, pancreas which is involved in insulin production. Moving further up around the region of the heart, we have the thymus gland which is most active in early childhood and secretes hormones that are essential for the development of the immune system. Around the region of the throat we have the thyroid and parathyroid glands.  The thyroid gland is essential for maintaining the metabolic activity of the body and the parathyroid gland is secretes hormones that are essential for the maintenance of our body framework. In the brain, the pituitary gland also known as the master gland secretes various hormones and exerts a great influence on the proper functioning of the body either directly or through its actions on the other endocrine glands. At the very top of the vertical axis along which all the endocrine organs are located is the pineal gland. Very little is known about this. Scientists have discovered only one hormone secreted by the pineal gland. This hormone is melatonin and it helps in regulation of sleep patterns.

So, we have the different endocrine organs that are located in seven distinct regions along the axis of the brain and spinal cord. Along with these endocrine organs, there are seven distinct  collections of nerves called plexuses that function as regulators and distributors of the energy generated by the brain. From the bottom to the top, six anatomically distinct nerve bundles called the sacral, lumbar, solar or celiac, cardiac, cervical and cavernous plexuses are associated with these glands. Above this is the largest collection of nerves cells, the human brain. Where ever we find bundles of nerve plexuses, there is rich blood supply as well. This can be demonstrated practically without being an expert in anatomy. When you have developed sufficient power of concentration to make your mind one pointed, if you focus your attention on any one of these nerve plexuses, you may feel warmth in the the area of attention. This is related to increased blood flow that follows your attention to a particular area. On the other hand, extreme anger causes generalized increase in blood flow throughout the body. This happens due to an increase in blood pressure and this resultant increase in blood flow may sometimes be felt as a “hot head” This increased blood flow can also raise the body temperature causing one to break out in a sweat. There is a great difference in controlled increases in blood flow (achieved through concentration and directed one pointed thought) to certain parts of your body and generalized chaotic increases in blood flow that symbolizes anger. In the former, there is growth and in the latter, destruction. As an example, consider a raging river. Untamed, it can cause a lot of misery and destruction to the people living along the banks, not to mention wastage of precious water resources. Erecting a dam predictably controls flow of water through sluice gates and this measured flow of water can be used for a lot of beneficial purposes.

Similarly, controlling your mind and thought is like erecting a dam. In the case of the mind, you are dealing with energy management and not water management. By such inner control, you are able to direct your energy to parts of the body that need it and at the same it you are developing a vast storehouse of energy just like a lake created by a dam. One practical application of this directed thought is enhancing the power and effectiveness of the endocrine glands by focusing your attention on the nerve plexuses associated with them. This in turn ensures a vibrant and healthy body.

Prior to achieving a controlled state of mind you need to base your life on the bedrock of a strong foundation. Man has built millions of multi storied buildings in the modern world. Each one of these buildings has a foundation. The depth of the foundation impacts the height and strength of the building. On similar lines, every train of thought has a foundation that is associated with it. Stronger the thought, stronger the foundation that it is built on. Sometimes, we have a powerful thought that overshadows other thoughts and even if we try to get out of a certain line of thought we cannot. This is sometimes referred to as a mental block. Just as you can see many skyscrapers, but can only physically be in one building at a time, you may see many different  “thought-scrapers” but can only be in one at a time. Each of these “thought-scrapers” have to be ascended from the bottom to the top. At the top, you see the world from the vantage point of a particular thought pattern that you are indulging yourself in.

In the world around you, you see a wide variety of buildings. These buildings may serve many different purposes such as residences, work places, shopping areas etc. Although the function may be different, the structure of each building is based on certain basic raw materials such as brick, steel and concrete. Each of us experience many different thought forms which keep changing all the time. Just like steel, concrete, bricks etc form the basis of buildings we inhabit, all our thoughts have certain common building blocks. We have the freedom to choose the design and architecture of our “thought-scrapers”. Since we have no shortage of mental real estate and the most expensive mental real estate costs us nothing in terms of real money, we keep building these thoughts.

What are the common building blocks of these thought patterns? When thoughts spring up in our minds, we fail to realize that there is a deep foundation for every thought. The reason thoughts appear random and baseless is our failure to recognize that we erected its foundation in the first place. Furthermore, we are not able to look at the foundation of each thought, just as the foundation of every building you see is not visible above ground. When thoughts that are pleasing appear we are very happy to grab it and try to hold on to it. However, when thoughts that provoke a sense of sadness show up, we are troubled by them and we want them to go away. When such unwanted thoughts don’t go away, we start finding fault. Instead of looking for the source within our selves, we assume that there has to be an external influence that is at play. This is where we start looking at others and pointing fingers at them.

In the beginning, I quoted the definition of the mind from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. In that description, the mind in its purest state is described as clear, pure white light. From this, everything manifests. Ordinarily we are able to see the manifestation of the mind in the form of thoughts. It is hard to see the mind as a spot of clear white light. You cannot find this spot of pure white light when you are living in the daylight of thoughts. It is like trying to use a flashlight in bright sunlight.

Some people are able to push aside and keep thoughts at bay achieving a certain stillness of the mind. Initially this requires active effort to be constantly vigilant of one’s thoughts. It is very difficult to maintain this state. You cannot earn a paycheck by tying up your time and effort in stilling your mind. There is a way to achieve this mental equipoise and still be active and productive in society. This technique of passive effort goes on simultaneously with normal daily life. It is like turning on a switch which allows constant flow of electricity. This switch lies in the foundation of your “thought-scrapers”.

If we study the order of the placement and functions of the endocrine glands along the vertical brain-spine axis, we can come up with an analogous rational explanation of the fundamental source of the mind and its thoughts. From these basic building blocks, you can derive infinite permutations of thoughts. If you change the foundation of the mental structure at this fundamental level, the mind and thoughts take care of themselves and you are well on your way to passively acquiring inner nirvana while being actively involved in the world.

Along the lower reaches of the spinal cord, opposite the sacral and lumbar nerve plexuses, we have the adrenal glands and the gonads. Hormones produced by these glands are involved in our instinct for self preservation and propagation of the species. This survival instinct is vital for self preservation. Instead of employing this instinct only in times of great personal danger, modern man has morphed this instinct into attachment and resultant fear. At a very young age, right when we are able to think independently, we start forming attachments. We become attached to this bodily cage. We don’t want it to age, we want to dress it with expensive clothes and we want it to function like a fine tuned race car without hearing complaints in the form of disease. The name that is attached to our physical body also likes to be attached with a healthy bank balance. These are just few of the bodily attachments we all have and when there is any threat of disruption in these attachments, we perceive it as a harm to our existence. This perception is expressed in the form of anger and fear. Unchecked, fear and anger can lead to war among nations resulting in great death and destruction.

Based on our various attachments, we then procreate the children of our thought in the form of actions and habits. As long as our actions and habits are good, the next step in building the foundation of the mind will be taken care of. Food is vital for our existence. Although food is essential for maintaining our bodies, not all food is beneficial. It is said that we consume food, and if the food we consume is not beneficial for us it consumes us. We may overeat but the cells of the human body only use what is required. The excess which is not expelled is retained in the body leading to disease formation. Furthermore, by excessive eating, the pancreas which produces insulin may eventually burn out leading to the onset of diabetes. Similarly, we can only be consume a limited amount of the material world in the form of sensory input. If we don’t set limits on our sensory consumption, it leads to greed. Greed consumes us by keeping us linked to our attachments, which in turn breeds more greed.

At any one of these initial steps, there is something within us that tries to guide us the right way. But this inner helper is silenced by the product of attachment, habit and greed. The product of attachment, habit and greed is ego. Ego is also shaped by our feelings which originate in the emotional seat of the body, the heart. The nerve plexus (called the cardiac plexus) that serves the emotional seat or the heart is also related to the thymus gland. As mentioned previously, the thymus gland is involved in the growth of the immune system. It is active in childhood and it involutes as we grow up. The ego does the opposite. It is dormant in our childhood and it grows and develops as we get older. I don’t think I have ever come across an egotistical toddler. Children are inherently happy and there is a lot to be learned from children when trying to subdue one’s ego.

Once our ego gets fattened up on a healthy dose of attachment and greed, we then start to crave power. This craving for power stems fear of losing what we have acquired. This fear leads us to wrongly exert our influence on others. If our influence is good we are respected and if our influence is bad and we are in a position of power, we are feared. People fear us as long as they themselves have attachments that they think may be jeopardized by antagonizing us. Once people lose this fear, there will be no one to help us and we are buried under the rubble of our attachments, greed and ego. On the other hand, if we work hard to gain the respect of others, the whole world will be ready to help strengthen the foundations we have created. Instilling fear or earning respect depends on how we express ourselves. This power of expression can be symbolically linked to the throat area and the cervical plexus of nerves. What we speak and the manner of our speech depends on what foundations we have laid lower down.

The pituitary gland is the master organ that controls and governs the other endocrine glands based on the feedback it receives. Similarly the mind receives feedback from the foundations we have created and these are intermingled and turned into thought movies. If you want to change your thoughts you have to change its basis. If you want peace of mind and an endless stream of good thoughts, it can be built on a stable foundation of right attachments, such as to a higher ideal like kindness and universal brotherhood of mankind. This then leads to appropriate good actions. Furthermore, limiting your wants to only what you can digest and having an ego of a child will endear you to all. You will then automatically express yourself in a manner that the world appreciates and others will support you out of respect and not fear. The feedback the mind gets from this chain will automatically give you good thoughts all the time. If you have good thoughts all the time the result is peace of mind. A peaceful mind is easy to control.

Once you have mastery of your mind  you can then safely ascend up to the next step which is that of oneness or separation. The concept of oneness and separation is like night and day.  They are mutually exclusive. The pineal gland through the production of melatonin exerts an influence on our sleep wake cycle. Most of us are awake during the daytime and sleep at nighttime. When you are awake to the world outside, you see diversity. Everything you experience in the world around you seems separate from you. When you start seeing this diversity you have already started walking on the trail that leads to attachment. While asleep at nighttime, you are essentially dead to the world. The concept of name, identity, world etc do not exist for you in a state of deep sleep. Although you are not aware of it, in the state of deep sleep you are experiencing unity.

The tricky part comes when we try to consciously resolve the concept of unity among diversity. Intellectually you can rationalize this and speak about this, but unless you deeply embed this concept in your inner consciousness, you will not be able to truly feel it during your waking hours. Just like a computer that has different codes embedded in the operating system, you can insert this concept of unity into the foundation of your thoughts. Since our basic survival instinct leads us to the path of attachment, you can use this to start a new pattern of thought that is based on attachment to one ideal, it could be universal brotherhood or oneness of mankind. Just as a calender year has different seasons, mankind has different races and religions. The seasons are based on the earth’s rotation on its axis and around the sun. All the seasons depend on this movement of the earth. Similarly all mankind depends on the earth’s rotation around its axis and around the sun. So, why feel any different from anyone else?

Once you start to feel the oneness, you then will act in concert with this feeling. Then instead of hoarding yourself with your wants, you will keep only what you need and share the rest. You don’t have fear of loss of possessions or attachments when you willingly give something. When you don’t fear losing something there will be no need to exert your power over others. Your ego will not not have the fuel to grow and it becomes stunted. Then you start to develop a happy, carefree mind just like a child. Coupling this attitude with your adult intelligence, you will express yourself in a manner that commands respect and adoration. This process feeds itself leading to a state of constant peace. This state of constant peace can make you more awake to your inner reality than the external reality. Once you have earned this peace of mind for yourself, the dividends can be reinvested into further discovering the oneness within yourself.
After you have seen and experienced the invisible thread of oneness in the world and within yourself, your mind will have no power to see differently and you may then see and experience the pure white light that has always been shining inside all of us. When you light a candle, the flame burns as long as wax is available. Your body is the candle and the flame is your mind. The mind flame is lit as soon as the body candle comes into the world and time slowly melts away the body candle. A burning candle can be used to light more candles providing warmth and light or can be used to burn down a whole town. The same goes with the flame of your mind. The happiness or misery in the world depends on our minds.

Practical exercise

Think about your mind as a flame of pure, clear light. Once the inner light of the mind hits the prism of the seven nerve plexuses along the brain and spinal cord, it manifests the seven colors of the rainbow, your inner rainbow. In order to keep this flame burning, you need oxygen. It enters your body through your breath.
I would like everyone to close their eyes. Bring your attention to your breath and watch it. With every inhalation, think of oxygen going right into your mind and feeding this gentle inner flame of your mind. Every exhalation is making room for more oxygen. Keeping watching every inhalation and exhalation. Oxygen goes in with each inhalation. As you watch your breath more closely, it gets feebler and gentler. Just as forcefully blowing on a candle extinguishes the flame, a forceful breath as you may experience in states of anger extinguishes mental peace. A slow gentle breath nourishes the inner flame of the mind, calming it.

As your focus on the pure, clear light think of the seven colors of the rainbow. When this pure clear light hits the prism of the body, seven colors are produced. Since the mind is linked to the seven nerve plexuses that run along the brain-spine axis, let’s associate each of the seven rainbow colors namely violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red with these nerve plexuses.
Starting at the base of the spine, think of the color red and keep your attention at at the base of the spine. This is where attachments start. Attach you self to the idea of oneness of mankind. Think about it and dwell upon it. Think of the color red stretching over the entire sea of humanity.

Now move your attention a couple of inches higher up along the spine and think of the color orange. Since your actions follow whatever attachments you formed, attachment to the ideal of oneness of mankind leads you to appropriate good actions benefiting mankind. Whoever comes into your sphere of influence will be benefited by these actions. Associate every good action of yours with the color orange which represents helpful actions.

Next, move your attention higher up the spine opposite your belly button. Think of the color yellow. Just as you try to limit your food intake to keep your body healthy, think of limiting your wants and desires to keep your mind healthy. Associate this limit on desire with the color yellow.

Now move your attention along the spine to the region of the heart. Here, think of the color green. Think of how friendly a child is. This openness comes from lack of ego. Associate the color green with a child’s ego.

Moving further up, bring your attention to the area of your throat. Think of the color blue. Think about how you want to express yourselves to others. Just as the sky casts a uniform blue canopy over the earth, everyone you meet or interact with should see this uniform expression of kindness coming from you.

Moving your attention further up to the region where the spinal cord meets the brain, close to the point where your eyebrows meet, think of the color indigo or midnight blue. This color is associated with peace of mind. To get to this color and its association with mental peace you have to ascend through the associations with the other colors starting from the base of the spine, namely red, orange, yellow, green and blue. Keep your focus on the color indigo and associate this with peace of mind.

Now take your focus higher up in the brain in the region of the pineal gland and think of the color violet. Associate violet with oneness within yourself just as you would experience in deep sleep. Just as you experienced outer oneness with mankind at the base of the spine, think of experiencing inner oneness within yourselves.

Now slowly take a breath starting from the base of your spine to the top of your head. Along the way collect the colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. This is your inner rainbow. When you combine these colors at the top of your head, you get one color. This is the color white. Do this a few times, inhaling from the base of the spine to the top of the head.

As you practice this, you will slowly experience the inner white light that is the true nature of your mind.