HJ: Do you control your thoughts, or do your thoughts control you? For most people, their ‘unruly’ thoughts are the source of the vast majority of suffering in their lives. By learning to control your thoughts, you can profoundly alter your reality and liberate yourself from the mental prison in which most people spend their entire lives. But just how does one take control of their thoughts? First, one must understand where their thoughts originate — our thoughts are simply expressions of our core beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. For example, if you believe that guilt is valid and necessary, your thoughts will reflect that inherent sense of guilt and any situation that can be interpreted in the framework of guilt may trigger guilty thoughts within your mind (for the record, guilt is a choice — it is not required…). Therefore, simply trying to fight the thoughts is useless. It can be likened to trying drain an overflowing bathtub by scooping out water with a pale… until you turn the faucet off, water is going to keep pouring into the tub. In this metaphor, the water is like our thoughts and the faucet is akin to our beliefs. Learn to control the faucet and you can control the flow of water.
This incredible talk by Swami Satyananda Saraswati — one of the most profound spiritual masters and thought leaders in recent history — explains the importance of taming the mind and many techniques through which one can begin to do so. Understanding the nature of the beast is of utmost importance in beginning to take control of the mind, and in this regard, the Swami does not dissapoint…
The Mysterious Mind
By Swami Satyananda Saraswati | Yoga Mag
Talk given at Satyanandashram, Barcelona, Spain, in August 1979, first printed in YOGA, Vol. 18, No. 8, August 1980
Most people are unfamiliar with the mind and do not understand its language or behaviour. Although the mind is an inseparable part of our being, our knowledge of it is very limited. We are continually happy or unhappy, desirous or frustrated, loving or hating, thinking, dreaming or sleeping. But all of these are beyond our control. If we stop thinking, it is because we can’t think any more, and if we think too much, it is because we cannot stop. We are happy, not because we choose to be, but because the emotion arises due to the fulfilment of some desire or condition.
The behaviour and reactions of the mind are not under our control. We have been living with the mind, yet we are totally unfamiliar with it. It is like two friends, who have no common basis of understanding, living together in the same room. One is deaf and the other is dumb. There is a total lack of synchronization. One prepares lunch and dinner and whatever he cooks, the other has to eat. He may not like spaghetti or hot, spicy food, but he has to eat it because that is what has been cooked for him.
Why is it like this?
We are ignorant of many things. Whatever is taught in the schools is inadequate. When we learn something, it is not for practical purposes, but in order to get through an examination. So there are many fundamental things which we do not know. Similarly, we do not know about the mind.
Yoga is a science which teaches you about the mind through practical experience. It is unnecessary to tell you what the mind is; you have to experience it yourself. I can explain to you what sweetness is, but until you have tasted it, you cannot understand it. However, once you have experienced it, you understand it and no explanation is necessary. Likewise, the mind has to be practically experienced.
The unseen mind
The great thinkers say that the mind is like a subterranean volcano. A small part of it can be seen, but the rest remains below the surface. We know many of the mental manifestations such as anger, happiness, unhappiness, greed, passion, emotion, worry, fear, anxiety, and so on. These only make the visible surface of the volcano. If we get angry, we experience it. If something happens to our family, we have melancholy feelings. We feel and we know. This is the perceptible mind that can be seen, but it is beyond our control. When we are full of frustration, we do not know how to get rid of it because the root is in the unseen mind.
Psychologists call the unseen region the subconscious and unconscious mind. Yoga calls it the astral and causal mind. When we practise yoga, we are able to see this subterranean area of the mind. If someone goes crazy or blows up, that is the subterranean mind coming to the surface. Just as smoke comes from fire, all mental manifestations emerge from the subterranean base. Anger can be felt in the brain and fear can be felt in the heart, but both emanate from the same place. Dreams, visions, doubts and prejudices all come from the same base. It is therefore necessary that we go deep into the base of the mind.
Developing the seer
How do we get to the base of the mind? One way is to follow a pattern of thought right back to the source. However, this is very difficult, because while we are following the pattern of thought, we become a part of it. Once we become a part of it, we are completely lost. If our mind is jumping about and we try to follow the thoughts, it is very difficult. After some time, what often happens is that we begin to fantasize.
In yoga, the path of following thoughts is not considered easy, because for most people the thinking and the thinker are inseparable. In order to practise this successfully, we must first be able to separate the thinking and the thinker, and then separate the thinking, the thinker and the thought. There are three factors combined.
The thinking, the thinker and the thought are the three components of the mind. When these are assembled, the process of thinking and feeling takes place. When a thought is in our mind, there is a thinker and a process of thinking. But in yoga we have a fourth component – the seer. So in yoga we have thinking, thinker, thought and the seer of it all.
Yoga really begins when we are able to add this fourth component to the thinking process. A seer is a spectator. Just as we become the spectator of a grand race or a viewer of television, in the same way, we have to develop within us a spectator of the triple process. We do not have to create the seer. The faculty of witnessing what is happening in the mind is already there in a very subtle form. That is the differentiating quality of human beings; otherwise, we would be mere animals. Animals walk on four legs, we walk on two. Animals react to different situations, and we also do. Animals eat, sleep and live in the body, and we also do. Animals have insecurity, and we also do. Animals love and perform the sexual act, and we also do. The only thing that makes homosapiens different from animals is the faculty of knowing.
I am talking to you; I know I am talking to you, and I know that I know that I am talking to you. You are listening to me; you know you are listening to me, and you know that you know that you are listening to me. This is called the faculty of the seer. This faculty is man’s special heritage. As man evolves, he develops this faculty. When we lose it, and many people do, we become as ignorant as animals. The faculty of the seer is developed through the process of meditation by which the whole mind is transformed. We no longer say thinking, thought and thinker; we say meditation, meditator and object of meditation. We become the seer of this triple function taking place in meditation. With this faculty we are able to connect past, present and future, and maintain a time-space continuum.
The source of creation
Mind is subtler than an atom, molecule or electron. It is the subtlest of all the energies discovered so far. You know about the subtler states of matter discussed in physics, but the mind is subtler than any kind of matter that has been conceived of, measured or analyzed in science.
According to yoga, the mind is connected to the time-space continuum. Time, space and object are qualities of the mind. The time-space-object continuum is the whole existence, and these three are manifestations of the mind. If you can disintegrate the mind, totally withdraw it, then time, space and object do not exist. This is taught in modern physics also. Religions say that God is the creator, but what is this creation? Is it made out of mud or stone, flesh or bone? Scientists have given a definite conclusion that the creation of time and space is a manifestation of the mind. Once the mind is withdrawn, there is nothing.
Few people understand the power of the mind. We can create anything with the mind, good and bad. Everything exists on account of the mind. The mind is more powerful than the body. We don’t understand it, because our science is based on matter. It seems that the mind is a thinking machine, but that is not so. It is a force, an energy. Through the mind we knowingly or unknowingly create disasters for ourselves. All our suffering is due to the mind.
In physics, scientists have clearly stated that both matter and energy are creations of the mind. Time and space are both spanned by the mind. The time-space-object continuum is created by the mind, just as we make a candle out of wax. The wax is the candle and when it melts, there is no candle. In the same way, the mind is extending itself.
Taming the mind
In physics, vedanta, yoga and tantra, we read that time, space and object are qualities of the mind, just as the nose, ears and eyes are different organs. If we die, everything dies. If we withdraw the mind, everything is withdrawn.
You can live for a certain period beyond this creation. If you develop this art, you can transcend time, space and object. By transcending the mind, you can attain samadhi, the highest state in evolution. But the problem is how to withdraw the mind. Modern science has accepted this, but it has not shown us how to manage the mind, nor has religion. The only science that has shown us the way is yoga and tantra. The purpose of yoga is to raise the mind, and for this, meditation is one of the greatest systems.
Meditation is dhyana yoga. It is not the yoga of unconsciousness; it is the yoga of complete consciousness of all that is happening within you. First you develop the awareness of a seer and become a witness of your thoughts. When this awareness is developed and the mind is completely withdrawn, then it is time to focus the awareness on an object like a flame, star, point, sound, idea, experience or mantra. Then you need to develop total awareness of that object. When this happens, you will spontaneously enter the state of meditation. Go on meditating and transform the gross mind into a subtle mind. Then transform the subtle mind into a causal mind, to such an extent that the cosmic mind is drawn to a point. This is bindu, the nucleus of creation. If this process does not take place, take the help of other forms of yoga, because they all prepare you for developing this faculty. However, don’t expect the process to be easy. The mind is the greatest force and in order to tame and harness this wild stallion, you must be ready to travel a lot.
First you must realize that the mind is a creative force. A thought is an expression of creation and you don’t know it. You think a thought and something happens somewhere. Your unhappiness, physical illness, intellectual limitations, emotional breakdowns and the lack of many other faculties can all be attributed to incorrect handling of the mind. In order to handle the mind, we must develop the faculty of the seer. Unless we do this, we can never manage the mind.
Everyone should understand that meditation is a very important practice. There are various meditative practices which you can learn according to your capacity. You must know your own self. Without this, you cannot extricate yourself from the tragedies of life. Happiness is within and that you have to know through practical experience.
Though you have tried everything, you have failed to secure happiness so far. You have been following a mirage, a world of delusion. You should realize the world within; the happiness which is non-material does not depend on the object. There is a greater happiness which is homogeneous and absolute, and that is the self, beyond the mind.