Sunday, December 2, 2012

Taming the mind - Part IV

In the dark of the night
As moonlight filters through many a tree
The misty air reflecting the moon’s light
Life seems still as the deep blue sea

As the sun rises up on the horizon’s east
The misty darkness gives way to life at dawn
The mist condenses into dew drops of nature’s feast
Dew drops trickle down blades of grass as tender as fawn

The nectar of life nourishes both man and beast
As the sun arches across the sky to the west
The dance of life goes on forgetting it’s leased
Till the sun sets and the blade of grass goes to rest

To the worldly man, the fiery sun is the spice of life
To the wise man, the cool moon is bliss of life

The Taj Mahal in India and Robben Island in South Africa are both world heritage sites attracting visitors from all over the world. The Taj Mahal, considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings ever built is a white marble mausoleum that has intricate inlay work with inscriptions and gems. This was built at the peak of the Mughal dynasty’s prosperity by a grief stricken emperor as a testament of his everlasting love for his queen who died during childbirth. Robben island, a place of isolation and imprisonment, is where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in a cold, damp cell the length of which he could cover in three paces.  Although starkly different, the Taj Mahal and Robben Island share the common thread of the power of the human spirit.

A great empire’s riches and resources were poured into building the Taj Mahal which houses a lifeless body, teaching us a lesson that all the wealth in the world leaves us at the doorstep of death. Legend has it that Alexander the Great, on his deathbed asked that his palms be turned upward prior to his burial. He wanted the world to see that he carried nothing with him after death despite having conquered the world. Robben Island is a reminder of the price paid for freedom and the birth of a democratic nation. Although, Nelson Mandela was kept isolated from the world, being allowed only one visitor a year, his mind could not be imprisoned. The dark and inhumane prison walls could not hold back the tide of change that he had mentally envisioned for his country. Mandela walked out the prison with empty hands devoid of worldly riches, but he carried with him a mental achievement that was priceless.  

Are we truly free in body and mind? Is freedom the ability to live and travel anywhere in the world? No matter how freely we roam on earth, we are still imprisoned in the bodily cage. Is the ability to think freely true freedom? Thinking involves the mind. The mind is conditioned by thoughts. Although the mind can be kept relatively free of thoughts and worries by letting things happen the way they do, we keep the mind tied down to seeking the pleasure and avoiding pain. During waking hours, the body and the mind are instruments through which we feel and experience happiness and suffering. Awareness of our body and the mind disappears in deep sleep.

Can you envision a mind without thought? If you say your mind is devoid of thought, who is “seeing” this empty mind? Probing further, one could say it is the “” or the ego that is seeing the empty mind. However, the sense of individuality or ego also disappears in deep sleep. This leaves the question, “Who really am I?”

Life in the body is a delicate balance of creative and destructive forces. In childhood and youth, there is growth and creation of bodily cells and tissues. These cells and tissues maintain health and vitality during adulthood. In old age, there is gradual cellular destruction leading to death and decay. As the body cycles through these phases of growth, preservation and destruction, the mind also goes through its own evolution.  A child’s mind is involved in fun and play. A youth’s mind sees himself or herself as invincible and seeks comforts and pleasures of the world. An adult’s mind is preoccupied with amassing wealth and in old age, the mind is engaged in escaping sickness and disease.

The world is full of pairs of opposites. We see night and day, good and bad, rich and poor, happiness and suffering, wickedness and righteousness, laziness and hard work etc. The opposite states of creation and destruction are also evident.  The mind remains very busy throughout our lifetimes on account of these contrasting states. Although the physical body has two eyes, the brain sees only one image. The mind has “one eye” but sees two aspects of everything that is placed before it, that is, positive and negative.

Think of the mind as a long tunnel with doors on either end. The door that opens to the world is easy to open and difficult to close. The door to the inner self is difficult to open and easy to close. In between these two sets of doors exists thoughts. Where does the ego or individuality fit in?  The “” or ego exists in the realm of the mind, between the doors to the inner and the outer worlds. This ego or “” is symbolically stamped on all our faces. The eyes, mouth and nose are arranged in the form of “”. Whether one is beautiful or ugly, rich or poor, male or female, this symbolic “” imprinted on every face. This suggests that the sense organs such as the eyes, nose and mouth are intimately connected with the “” or ego.

To overcome the “” or ego, one has to transcend the senses. We communicate silently through our eyes and verbally through speech. What we see affects how we think and what we speak has has impact on how others think. In this way, our individual ego is connected with everyone we come across. If we see the good in others and speak with love and compassion, people around us will in turn see the good in us and may speak to us in the same tone.

Imagine standing in a dark room in front of double doors. Think of these double doors having a vertical gap in the center between the two doors and a horizontal gap between the doors and the door frame above and below. This resembles the symbol “Ⅰ”. Now think of a bright light on the other side of the door. The doors being opaque will not let the light through. Think of this light behind the door filtering through the vertical gap between the doors and  the horizontal gap between the doors and the door frame. Standing in the dark room looking at the door, the gaps illuminate in the shape of the symbol “”. Once the doors open, this outline of “” disappears.  Behind closed eyes, you can clearly see your individuality and see yourself separate from the world. When one is fully absorbed in the objects of the world, the sense of individuality seems to momentarily disappear. However, this state does not last very long as the world is constantly changing and the mind keeps up by interpreting the positive and negative aspects of the changing world. When one is not fully absorbed in the objects of the world, the sense of individuality quickly returns. This transient loss of the sense of “” or ego while absorbed in the world is as transient as the world itself.  

To more permanently eradicate the sense of “” or ego, one has to close the doors to the world, travel down the mental tunnel and find the other set of doors that lead to the inner self.  This may not be possible through the five senses as the senses are associated with the external world. Through the power of concentration, the mind can be turned away from the distractions of the world. Great scientists and inventors are able to do this. An incident involving the great American inventor, Thomas Edison illustrates this point. When Edison was working on the telegraph he was constantly engrossed in that thought. He was once was standing in line waiting his turn to pay his taxes while thinking about his invention. He was so deeply engrossed in thought that he could not remember his own name when his turn came up. Theodore Roosevelt’s power of concentration was such that, while a student at Harvard, he could read a textbook in a noisy classroom and still be able to master its contents.

There are many ways to achieve this state of concentration. There are several techniques and  paths that take us to a concentrated state of mind. This cannot be done by merely wishing or thinking about it. It requires a great deal of effort. As Edison said, “genius is one-percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration”. Books and theory provide the inspiration and this needs to be put into practice by self effort. A path that appeals to one may not appeal to another. The ego makes one focus on the path forgetting the destination. The destination, that is finding the unifying thread behind the human spirit, is the same for everyone. A city can be reached many different ways. For someone living 10 miles away, it is easier to drive there than to fly. For someone that lives hundreds of miles away, it is easier to fly. Although an airplane travels many times faster than a car, the route and the distance determines the mode of travel. Different paths appeal to people depending on the direction from which they are approaching the goal. These paths may include constant rational self inquiry, devotion to an entity, working without expectation or a combination of these approaches or any other approach..

The objects of the world are illuminated by the sun. The moon does not generate light, it merely reflects the light of the sun. The sun is symbolically represented in the body by the digestive fire in the area of the solar plexus (navel). The moon is symbolically represented by the mind. The outer sun cannot illuminate the inner mind. Thoughts are the reflections of the mind. To find the source of this reflection, one has to trace thoughts back to their origin. Just as one picks the shortest and safest route to a destination, one has to pick the right kind of thought to follow. In general, there are good thoughts and bad thoughts. Following good thoughts is like traveling on a smooth and well paved road. Following bad thoughts is like driving on a road and bumpy road which may lead to a flat tire halting further progress. If one can consciously keep a good thought and recreate the state of deep sleep where there is no awareness of the body and the mind, the senses and the ego get cut off from the world. A good thought serves as a beacon of light in the relative darkness of the mind. When one travels by a commercial airliner, one needs a ticket, some form of identification and a pilot to fly the plane. The body is the like the ticket, the mind is like the identification and a good thought is like the pilot. On arriving at the destination, the ticket, identification and the pilot will have served their respective purposes.

Moonlight in the night sky signals the presence of a bright sun on the other side of the earth. Concentrate on a good thought with the same faith one has about the appearance of sunlight at dawn. When the sun appears, the intensity of the moon light fades away. Similarly, when the the inner destination is reached, even good thoughts that aided the journey will fade away and one reaches a thoughtless stage of being a silent witness of all there is and will ever be.