Sunday, September 20, 2015

Training the mind - 17

The beauty of nature
Is beyond the reach of time
Caught in its throes
The mind appears far from perfect

The essence of life is achieving a lasting state of beauty and perfection. There is abundance of both in art and nature. Both are reflections, one of the individual mind and the other of the universal mind. When one stands in front of an imposing snow clad mountain for example, it is very common to be lost in complete awe of it's beauty and majesty. The same thing may happen when observing a beautiful work of art, or listening to deeply moving, soul stirring music.  Despite what may be going in one’s mind at that time stirred up by restless thoughts, for a few distinct moments there is complete peace. The mountain appears to have consumed the person standing in front of it. The same goes for other experiences such as music or art. As long as one is in front of it, one is lost in that beauty. The observer and the the observed are unified in the one experience. 

That peace which is associated with an external agent quickly disappears once one moves away from it. The memory of that moment is what makes long for that experience to repeat over and over again. It is fine to indulge oneself in the experience of external beauty, such as that of nature, if one is completely overwhelmed by the contents of one’s thoughts. It is a very useful and harmless distraction. But it creates a state of dependency. There cannot be complete individual freedom and perfection when there is this dependency. These reflections that we see in nature and art are subject to change. What brings total fulfilment and peace is experiencing the changeless source that is within each individual self. Not a lot of enquiry has been put forth in this regard by the average individual. It is a deeply personal quest that no one can undertake on our behalf. Forgetting that we are already one with that state of beauty and perfection we constantly seek, we instead subscribe to the contents of our mind and erroneously believe the portrait of ourselves that is drawn by our thoughts. It may not always appear beautiful and perfect. To get away from that thought derived image of ourselves, we look for something external to experience that beauty and perfection.

Some part of us is a witness to everything including our thought. Thoughts cannot be a witness to themselves, just as an eye cannot see itself. One can very easily see that one is able to distance oneself from certain thoughts. If one is able to step away from all thought, there is a moment of complete clarity. This is what happens when we are totally consumed by the scenery of a majestic mountain, or a particularly moving piece of music that is being played. That moment temporarily negates the contents of one’s thoughts completely, and at that instant, the visual of the mountain or the sound of music is seen and heard with complete clarity not just by the sensory organs of sight and hearing but by something deep within ourselves. The real seeing or hearing (this goes for the other senses as well) is not done by the sense organs, brain, mind or thoughts. It is the witness within that does that. By careful analysis one can infer this quite easily. Besides the body and the contents of the mind, there is something else. That something else is the living witness within all. In the state of being where an individual is one with that witness, there is no observer or the observed. There is only the experience. By being one with this witness, one can continue to live, breathe and think, but the inner environment is completely transformed. Initially, that realization may come in spurts when we apply ourselves to that line of enquiry, and by repeated and persistent effort, it slowly becomes more established. But through course of habit and ignorance, importance is given to external objects and thoughts make them appear as real. If something appears very real, further enquiry stops right there. Deeper enquiry from that point onwards requires an entirely different paradigm of thinking to uproot centuries of mankind’s collective conditioning. Healthy skepticism is required if this ignorance is to be eliminated. The advancement of science has been possible only through the process of healthy skepticism. Rather than take any new finding as true, scientists look for many different ways to disprove an assertion before acknowledging it as true. The same principle should apply for inner enquiry. Logic can get us to the doorstep of realization but cannot open the lock of that door. As an example, a car needs a road in order to run, and an airplane needs the wind and an open space to fly. Similarly, logic may be employed where is helpful, and when we get to a point where it no longer works, the enquiry should not stop there just because logic is of little use. At that point, deep and sustained observation (from the vantage point of the inner witness) without the interference of thought may take us further.

Without space within, thoughts cannot grow and take shapes and forms. Complete knowledge of the witness within eliminates this space where thoughts survive. Thoughts cannot destroy other thoughts. Just as in the present day, no one individual has the right to have complete authority over another, one thought cannot assume the right to control another. History has proven over and over again, that dictatorships don’t last. At some point, there will be an uprising amongst subjugated people. It is a natural tendency for people to seek freedom. That freedom is initially external. People may be happy for a while with that. In course of time, the struggle will have to turn towards gaining complete internal freedom. The mind rebels when we try to impose one thought on it. One dictatorial thought will eventually be overthrown by other thoughts it tries to suppress. That natural uprising is very similar to what we have seen in the recent years as a democratic wind that has swept through parts of the world. With new found freedom, previously suppressed thoughts become very active and that may affect our sense of peace. Only if this internal and very individual struggle each one of us goes through on a daily basis is overcome fully, can there be lasting peace in the world we live in. The source of conflict is within and amongst thought, external manifestations are just as reflection of that. We have come to believe through conditioning that everything external is real, therefore we look for the reasons for conflict in the outer world. That is also the perhaps the reason why just about any remedy we may have tried collectively as mankind over generations has simply not worked. Obviously there is no good external way to reprogram each one’s mind differently than what one is already is accustomed to, and at the same time maintain a sense of complete freedom from that individual’s point of view. That process must happen spontaneously, naturally and most importantly, willingly from within each one. All that takes time. But does mankind have that time? Especially with rapid escalation of destabilizing forces that have mushroomed all over the world. Consider the example of a mighty river that starts off as an insignificant puddle on a remote mountain top. Water in that puddle may be fed by a tiny spring, perhaps hidden under a rock. The source may not be exactly located. But several miles downstream, the beginnings of a river are very evident. One may pour water into the ground to recreate that puddle similar to the one which eventually turns into a river, but does such a man made puddle ever turn into a river? Similarly, change with each one has to take place from a wellspring within, it cannot be imposed by another. It should be a conscious and free choice. Just as a tiny puddle may eventually lead to a mighty river, even a small change each one makes within oneself could change the course of humanity for the better. Afterall, living in civilized societies, one cannot just be responsible for one’s individual self, but the greater good of society also needs to be kept in mind. Each one has a vested interest in this directly or indirectly. Our children and children of those whom we may know or don’t know will inherit this mantle the present generation. Just as people don’t will their burdens to their children, we should not do that as a society to the generations of human beings to come.  

All of mankind is made equal with respect to the sun’s rays, all thoughts are made equal with respect to the witness within. It is only with that knowledge of the witness within that we may be able to have complete freedom from the rule of thought. As we have alluded to, it is possible to engage, interact and be of this world without the medium of thought. If and when required, space may be created for thoughts to blossom and flourish in order to employ them as a medium for expression. For example, if one wants trees in front of one’s dwelling, there is no need to move to a forest. Trees may be planted, tended to in an orderly and controlled manner. Similarly if one has that firm and deep conviction that one is is the witness beyond thought, there is no need to move into the forest of thoughts in order to use them. Thoughts may be planted at will, as and when needed. When thoughts don’t rule how we live our lives, we are in complete control of ourselves. That is a state of beauty and perfection that is independent of anything in the world. When there is no disturbance caused by thought, there is no more worry and fear. It is possible in this manner to live a life of great responsibility without worry or fear. Only through knowledge that one is the witness to everything is one able to eliminate all worry and fear.

There are several layers to oneself. The sense organs, the brain and its neurons, the thoughts etc. It is quite easy to proceed logically from external objects all the way to thoughts and eliminate everything along the way as not being part of one’s real self. Proceeding further inwards from thought onwards may prove difficult. One may be able to distance oneself from certain thoughts and say “that is not me”. For example, if someone who is never prone to anger has a sudden fit of rage, it is easy to distance oneself from that emotion as not being one’s real nature. Just as easily as this is done, it is equally difficult, but not impossible to totally distance oneself from the contents of one’s mind. The contents of one’s mind has always existed side by side with the witness beyond the mind. The missing piece is the total realization that this is going on. Once one has realized the witnessing aspect of one’s being as the one’s very own self, whether the mind is full or empty has little bearing. But as a natural part of this process, the mind gets emptied of all worries, anxieties, joys and sorrows. In other words, contrasting relativities or duality cannot coexist along with realization of the witness within. The next step in human evolution is this internal discovery. It is not a sudden revelation, rather it is a slow process of metamorphosis.

Without an obviously visible external prompter, everything around us has evolved to its present state. Silently over millions of years, the progress has been slow but relentless, driven by a mysterious force. Life is evolving every minute. But it takes a time scale of a million years perhaps, to see the impact of that evolution going on right under our noses. Each life form craves something more than what it already is. The most obvious form of this craving is for further growth. The cells of the body are in a net growth phase until the balance is tipped in favor of senescence. There is beauty in this process as well. Rather than an abrupt ending, in natural death there is a gradual withdrawal of the energies of life until it cannot sustain the body anymore. It is a very dignified and painless way to depart. Nature has perfected the process of birth and death. It’s usefulness is very evident if we look back in time and see how humans evolved. Without birth and death, early hominids could not have evolved to present day homo sapiens. We have been given the stage now. One must seize this opportunity wholeheartedly whether one is young or old. If there is true joy in everything we do, the purpose of life may reveal itself. But we tend to think the other way around, “let life reveal its purpose and then I will be joyful”. This is mere intellectual craving that may never be satisfied. Coming into this world and what ultimately happens to our body is not in our hands. But how we maintain it at the present time is very much up to us. There is a very important reason why we should try to maintain a perfect state of health. It is the only vehicle we have for further evolution. Rockets are not shot into space until all systems are working in perfect order. When the body is healthy and functioning normally, it becomes easier to forget the body and focus on deeper enquiry. If one part or another is failing and causing discomfort, it becomes very difficult to focus complete attention internally. There is a rung in the ladder of evolution that is only available to humankind, and that rung is in the mind.

Unique in our ability to see ourselves apart from everything else is the first stop on the journey of the evolutionary train through the mind. Everyone has been given a free pass in this regard. The first steps on the road to learning the deeper secrets of the mind is making use of that sense of separateness. It gives us relative freedom, by creating a personal space for each one to grow at his or her own pace. As plants grow out of the ground seeking the sun’s rays, our sense of individual self also tries to grow towards the state of happiness, beauty and perfection. Unless there is a state of total happiness, and the very nature of oneself becomes that, growth is not complete. Along the way, distractions that promise much may be hard to ignore, despite evidence that they deliver very little benefit. The world cannot be fed by what is grown under artificial light in greenhouses which are no match to natural sunlight that is freely available. Happiness derived from the world is like flowers growing in greenhouses. It is pleasing to the eye, but cannot feed the hungry. The hunger for happiness can only be sated by eliminating the gap between seeking and attaining the state of happiness. Thus far, the world has not provided a way towards that. If there was such a thing, it would perhaps be the number one seller on an e-commerce platform such as Amazon. Therefore there is a need to look elsewhere. A logical place to start is to dig deeper within one’s own mind. That is one place where no external aid or person may offer direct assistance. It is only through sheer dint of one’s own effort that it may be fully understood. Everyone has complete freedom, but little mastery, at least initially, in this regard. Freedom is more important than proficiency. Without freedom nothing can be attained. But when there is freedom, any effort that is expended may further our understanding. We mortgage our individual freedoms through dependency and attachment. That source point of attachment is deep within ourselves and not contained in an external object. True freedom can be won only if we go within and find that source of attachment and understand why it is the source of our misery. Over and over again, we form new relationships with people, objects and situations hoping to find a cure to our long suffering need for fulfilment. Each one of those relationships may lead to further attachment and dependency.

There are a number of pitfalls along the way to understanding the true reality of the mind and the self, which is not cloistered by individual experience and memory. Rarely are we totally satisfied with life. There is always a yearning for something more. Whatever good comes our way, after a period of time becomes stale. When we experience something good, there is an instant when we are one with that experience. But as time elapses, there is a gap that forms between the experience and the experiencer, which is us. This gap is a source of dissatisfaction. Greater the gap, greater is the sense of dissatisfaction. It may sound simplistic, but eliminating the separation between the experience and experiencer may be a way to solving a lot of the problems of current day life. Animals do not have the ability to see themselves as the experiencer. They are one with the experience of any given moment. But they are not conscious to that fact, hence deeply ignorant. But humans have the ability to maintain awareness of the experience without separating themselves as experiencers. Until we realize this state of experience without the dual states of the experience and the experiencer, we will remain ignorant of the deeper reality of our own self as the witness of all.

The length of time between initial satisfaction with an object and ultimate dissatisfaction is a function of the depth of our desire for that object and how deep that “good thing” goes to meet the demands of desire. This can be both good and bad depending on the ultimate goal of one’s desire. Desire is as useful as wheels are to a car. The wheels don’t decide the destination, the driver of the car determines that. Letting desire control us is like letting the wheels take control of the car. Desire is no doubt important. It serves its purpose well when we control it and not the other way around. Without wheels, a car cannot move even if the driver is capable to getting the car to the destination safely. Similarly, desire can quicken our evolution if we point it in the right direction. It functions as our wheels while we navigate inwards into the mind. If scientists were satisfied with the progress made in the 17th century for example, we would still be in the dark ages. They pointed their desire for knowing more in the right direction of enquiry and that has borne bountiful fruit. On an individual level, we are always craving for more and more out of the senses. Satisfaction at the level of the senses is paramount if we are to progress further in our mental evolution. Besides the release of neurotransmitters from the brain and nervous system that create a pleasurable sensation, what more can one get out of the senses? It seems to be a dead end street as far as further evolution of the mind is concerned. The senses are chiefly concerned with form and are relentlessly driven in that direction by our demands that the experiences derived from matter last into perpetuity. Desire at the levels of the senses should be curtailed after a reasonable amount to required to live a comfortable and productive life. Beyond that desire could be readily employed elsewhere such as trying to fully understand one’s own self.

The scent to be followed, as we point desire inwards, is that of beauty and perfection within, just as we experience in nature for example. The faith one must have at this point is, if it’s a reflection outside, the source must be inside. Since the trail goes dark behind closed eyes, we keep turning back, trying to seek it in other forms that may be easily be perceived by the senses. Forms are transient. What appears beautiful and perfect today may quite easily change tomorrow. Hoping to cling onto what is experienced today and trying to transport it into the future is a source of misery that we bring upon ourselves.  Since we can’t physically hold onto all the forms we crave, we try to hold it mentally. Thoughts that are not given form are like lumps of clay. Those formless thoughts are not given much importance, although it has the potential to be turned into anything we wish, just as clay may be fashioned into any object. When thoughts are given form, they make it into our private collection, which is our memory. When something has been given a mental form, only the creator of that that mental form has the ability to eventually destroy it. But we are sentimental collectors and cannot get ourselves to destroy our mental creations. The craving for beauty and perfection lurks here as well in the form of likes and dislikes. Even amongst our thought creations, we continue exercising likes and dislikes. Thoughts are not uniform, some are likable, others we passionately dislike. Likable thoughts are given an exalted status. But their beauty is imperfect. It’s pleasing nature is relative to other less likable thoughts. Each thought that we may like is surrounded by perhaps a hundred other thoughts that we dislike. It is hard to distance ourselves from mental objects of our own creation. If one dislikes a physical object, it is possible to distance oneself away from it. But with mental objects created by thought, the more we try to distance ourselves from them, the closer they tend to appear.

If there is beauty in a clay form, where does that beauty lie? If it lies in that clay form, then even a shapeless lump of clay should also be considered beautiful. The notion of beauty in a clay object resides in our thought. Thoughts cannot function unless there is space for them to exist. This space is not a physical space but a vast subtle space within our very own being. There is something in addition that links these thoughts, the space they exist in and the objective world. That is the hidden witness within one and all. Ultimately, the beauty and perfection that we perceive outside of ourselves emanates from this witness within. When one realizes this inner witness and thoughts cease to function, then the relativities such as beauty in a clay form and no beauty in a lump of clay would cease to exist. When there are no relativities, the experience of beauty and perfection must be absolute.  

When we look at an external object, we forget about the earth that supports that object. We we look at the earth, we forget about space that holds our planet. When we look at space, we forget what is holding that vast infinite space with its countless galaxies in place. We cannot see beyond space so we assume that it is the end of the search. Similarly, one can go from a gross object that the eyes can see, to a subtle object in the mind that can be seen through thought. In each instance, there is something bigger that holds the object. Now the question is what is that “bigger thing” that holds thought and our mind? Here the microcosm mirrors the macrocosm. The vast infinite physical space with all its heavenly bodies, stars, planets and galaxies may be thought of as similar to the mental space with countless thoughts. Each individual’s mind is separated from another’s just like the vacuum of space separates stars and planets. On earth, a lot of historical events in the history of man had come and gone. They have absolutely no relevance to the cold, desolate isolation on dusty Mars. But to us here, it is an essential part of our history. Despite the lack of an obvious connection between what happens on earth and mars, both are tied together in the bigger picture of the solar system. Both share a common sun and both revolve around it. Similarly, despite individual differences in terms of the contents of one’s mind, everyone may be linked by the witnessing aspect of their respective beings. The witness within does not interfere with the contents of the mind, therefore it should not be different from person to person. Just as one’s mind uses individual thoughts to perceive the plurality of life, perhaps the one witness sees many perspectives through each individual’s mind. When one realizes that one is that witness and is always in that state, there is no more seeking. That is perhaps the state of perfection and beauty we are all after.

To be continued...