The view that the mind and all its workings is a function of the brain, is probably the most commonly held understanding of the mind in the world today. But the yogic view is radically different. There was an appreciation that we exist as eternal spiritual beings, temporarily occupying a gross material body, and also covered by a subtle material body constituted primarily of the mind. Three Vedic verses I quote speak to this:
“The individual is the passenger in the chariot of the material body, and intelligence is the driver. Mind is the driving instrument, and the senses are the horses. The self is thus the enjoyer or sufferer in the association of the mind and senses. So it is understood by great thinkers.” – Katha Upanisad 1.3.3-4
The working senses are superior to dull matter; mind is higher than the senses; intelligence is still higher than the mind; and he [the soul] is even higher than the intelligence. – Bhagavad-gita 3.42
Transcendentalists who are advanced in knowledge compare the body, which is made by the order of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to a chariot. The senses are like the horses; the mind, the master of the senses, is like the reins; the objects of the senses are the destinations; intelligence is the chariot driver; and consciousness, which spreads throughout the body, is the cause of bondage in this material world. – Bhagavat Purana 7.15.41
The goal of human life promoted in the Vedas was to achieve spiritual liberation from material entanglement through self-realization. This involved exercising control of the mind as opposed to being enslaved and victimized by it.
One must deliver himself with the help of his mind, and not degrade himself. The mind is the friend of the conditioned soul, and his enemy as well. – Bhagavad-gita 6.5
For one who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy. – Bhagavad-gita 6.6
A deeper understanding of the mind and how it affects us was integral to the practice of yoga. Such an understanding is found in the Yoga Sutra:
The mind is not self-illuminating being itself an object of perception (that which is knowable). YS 4.19
Not being self-luminous, the mind cannot be aware of an object and itself (as perceiver and perceived) at the same time. YS 4.20
The pure and transcendental consciousness of the atma (self) is unchangeable. When the mind receives the reflection of that consciousness it is able to perceive and appears like the seer. YS 4.22
The mind, being able to perceive due to its reflecting both the atma (self) and objects of perception, appears to comprehend everything. YS 4.23
Even though the mind has accumulated various impressions (and desires) of various types it is always at the disposal of the atma (self). This is because the mind cannot function without the power of the perceiver. YS 4.24
There was an appreciation of how an uncontrolled mind was seen as an enemy of the self:
This uncontrolled mind is the greatest enemy of the living entity. If one neglects it or gives it a chance, it will grow more and more powerful and will become victorious. Although it is not factual, it is very strong. It covers the constitutional position of the self/atma. – Bhagavat Purana 5.11.17
In the Bhagavad-gita there is an observation by Arjuna as to the difficulty of controlling the mind, but also a reassurance by Sri Krishna that it is possible:
For the mind is restless, turbulent, obstinate and very strong, O Krishna, and to subdue it, I think, is more difficult than controlling the wind. – Bhagavad-gita 6.34
Lord Krishna said: O mighty-armed son of Kuntī, it is undoubtedly very difficult to curb the restless mind, but it is possible by suitable practice and by detachment. – Bhagavad-gita 6.35
For one whose mind is unbridled, self-realization is difficult work. But he whose mind is controlled and who strives by appropriate means is assured of success. That is My opinion. – Bhagavad-gita 6.36
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So I had a request to speak on the workings of the mind.
The current world view of the mind is, fundamentally, that it is a function of the brain—your brain is doing what it’s doing, and the function of that brain, or one of the functions, is the mind. That idea is actually challenged by a number of leading neurologists and neurosurgeons, but we’ll get into that in a little bit.
The mind, as people think of it now in the world, is pretty much shaped largely by Sigmund Freud. He developed ideas and theories that pretty much have been the foundation for modern psychology, which is meant to be a study of the mind. Interesting thing about Freud though, was a lot of his ideas haven’t really been directly and openly challenged. Within psychology they have, but I mean some of the views that he held today would have got him cancelled like big time.
People would have been tearing down his statues if they really care—think about, or listen to and contemplate on some of the ideas that he promoted: that there were all kinds of animal instincts residing within the psyche of people that can easily bubble up to the forefront, and cause chaos in society, and so they needed to be repressed. That was one idea that he had. And it applied to the idea that broader society needed to be sort of managed and controlled so that that wouldn’t occur and become destructive for society. But there are a lot of other things that he proposed that today are not considered acceptable by any manner of means. Not that I’m saying he was necessarily at fault.
The point is—that I’m making is that in general we are not very cognizant of how often and how far change occurs in society’s thinkings and their norms. We seem to be pretty oblivious to that, and oblivious to the idea that what we’re holding to be true today might be viewed in the future, and not too distant future, as being completely ridiculous. And yet we can be very proud of the ideas that we may be holding or possessing or propagating.
So, the yogic view of the mind was really quite—not quite different, radically different than what is held by—the idea held by many people today.
The word psychology was derived from the Greek “psyche,” and in Greek that meant breath, or the principle of life, or life itself, or the soul. And that, of course, is not what’s understood today, particularly the part about the soul. We live in a very materialistic world where people are wholesale rejecting the idea of anything that is truly spiritual, like the idea of a soul or some spiritual component. But it’s sort of interesting because this Greek word is very much like an equivalent in Sanskrit, which is prana, and people are familiar with the term pranayama in Sanskrit and yoga terminology, which people refer to as breath, but actually the prana could mean one’s very life. It can also mean the breath. It can also mean the life energy, which was very similar to the Greek usage of the word psyche.
In the yogic philosophy the mind was something to be respected and guarded against. In the Bhagavad-gita there’s a couple of verses that I’ll read you,
“One must deliver themself with the help of the mind and not degrade oneself. The mind is the friend of the conditioned soul and his enemy as well.”
I mean this is whoa! This is a shocking concept, that your own mind can be one’s enemy. And the following verse is,
“For one who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends, but for one who has failed to do so his mind will remain the greatest enemy.”
So there are other references to the unbridled mind being the greatest enemy of the actual person. That’s a pretty radical idea. And, of course, it involves or deals with a couple of different things.
The conventional idea is—that we see in the world today, is what I often refer to as a two-dimensional paradigm. There is the idea that you have a body, and then that includes the brain as part of the gross body; and then you have a mind and that that’s the whole picture. And so we often see that attempts to address psychological issues deals with just trying to get the brain to function properly and the mind to function properly. And it, of course, involves an array of tools, including chemical substances, because there is this idea that a mind that is not functioning well is due to a brain that is not functioning well and a chemical imbalance and things. And while there is some truth to that, that is not, from the yoga perspective, the real and full picture. There is a deep appreciation of how the mind can affect one physiologically, and vice versa one’s physiology can also affect one’s psychology.
The paradigm that the yoga system works off is more of what I refer to as a three-dimensional paradigm. It’s the idea that, yes, you have a gross physical body. There is a subtle body, that in Sanskrit was referred to as the linga sarira, and it’s comprised primarily of the mind. But there is a third consideration, and that third consideration is that there is an eternal spiritual being that is residing within the body and utilizing the body and the mind; and that’s a really important idea.
If people want to address a lot of their struggles in life and issues and what—they’re referred to as mental health issues, and we’ll sort of like unpack that a little bit as we go on. So, well I’ll just make mention of this: The reason that that understanding is really, really important is because it actually empowers a person to more effectively take charge of their life and direct it, so that we feel less like a helpless victim led around by our mind, and feel like we actually have a capacity that we need to really consider and develop, where we can begin to direct the mind and the content of the mind, and that this should become something that over time not only becomes very natural but spontaneous, and leads to much more brilliant outcomes in life. And this is really the foundation of the—
Well I’m just rethinking something here.
It is so important for people to be able to cultivate an understanding of the reality of their spiritual existence apart from the body and apart from the mind. And when we learn that, and we practice real mindfulness—I mean real mindfulness as it was traditionally taught was very much dependent upon the appreciation of this reality of the existence of the self, the existence of a spiritual being, the person as being actually innately spiritual. And that—those practices of mindfulness were practices where one learned not to become overwhelmed by the mind and the experiences that can occur there, the reaction to things, emotional responses etc.
But to understand that bigger picture, there’s just a couple of verses that I will speak about from the Vedas. One is from the Katha Upanishad, and they use an analogy of the body and the mind and the person within being like a chariot. So it says,
“The individual [meaning the spiritual being] is the passenger in the chariot of the material body and intelligence is the driver”
This intelligence here, the Sanskrit is called buddhi and we’ll speak about that in, shortly,
“The mind is the driving instruments of that chariot.”
So the driving instrument is of course the reins in a chariot, and the senses, the five material senses are the horse—or the horses rather.
“The self is thus the enjoyer or sufferer in the association of the mind and senses. So it is understood by great thinkers.”
So this analogy was considered really important and fundamental to a spiritual perspective of things. So we have other verses also that speak about this driver which we’re referring to as buddhi, and we’ll address—it’s kind of like the word Buddha. Buddha is, refers to, this intelligence, this actually spiritual intelligence.
So from the Bhagavat Purana, it says,
“Transcendentalists who are advanced in knowledge compare the body, which is made by the order of the Supreme, to a chariot. The senses are like the horses; the mind, which is the master of the senses, is like the reins; the objects of the senses are the destination.”
Interesting idea! The things that this horses are running after, their destination, are the different sense objects that we crave and desire and contemplate upon.
“Intelligence is the chariot driver; and consciousness, which spreads throughout the body, is the cause of bondage in this material world.”
So the importance of this understanding of this faculty called buddhi: This faculty means that I can actually step back from the mind and observe it, even while it’s caught up in something. Like, for instance, when a person is overwhelmed: an intense thing is anger, more often than not, that while a person is in the middle of expressing great anger—
And when I use the word anger here, anger (in Sanskrit krodha), this refers to when a person begins to lose composure, even lose their intelligence, as they say in English, and begin to act in a way where they have actually lost control, and they are beginning to say and do things that they may or should often regret afterwards.
So, in that condition a person can be beginning to really lose the plot. I mean there’s a physiological reaction. There’s all kind of like adrenaline pumping and people, they just take on this transformation in physical appearance and start saying things or acting in a violent way, often. And even in the middle of this some people will often—it’s almost like hearing a voice, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it.” You see these sometimes things acted out in movies, and something where somebody’s become so angry they’ve grabbed someone and slammed them against a wall or down on the floor, and then they’ve got an instrument, a weapon, or their fist, and they’re about to hit this person and do something. And they’re just there and just pausing, and then all of a sudden they just like, “Gaaaaaahhh!” they just throw the thing and get up and storm off. And it’s—what’s happened is something has stepped in, and even though the mind was being completely swept away there is something saying, “Don’t do it.”
This faculty is called buddhi, or intelligence, and it is a faculty that is actually higher than the mind. Just like in the example of the chariot: The body is considered like the chariot. The horses pulling it around are the senses, and all of the sensory activity is being fed back to the mind. And the mind is often directing the senses to contemplate or indulge in different kinds of things. But you have a driver who is holding the reins, and that driver can choose to not hold them tightly, to let them go, or to exercise control and direct the horses, the speed that they’re moving, the direction that they’re heading in. This is the faculty of the buddhi. And then sitting as a passenger within the chariot, is the actual person, the spiritual being who is along for the ride, wherever it’s going and wherever it’s taking them. So this faculty, this buddhi is so important.
And in the ancient Vedic civilization people were trained from childhood to develop this faculty and to utilize it. And so they were guided in life. There were always very clear guard rails, and we should move within these guard rails, and that if we cross over them we enter into more dangerous territory–dangerous for us, and it can be dangerous for others—that frequently most often will result in grave unhappiness for the individual and for those that they’re coming into contact with. So this capacity—
And the mindfulness meditations that we teach in the prisons and stuff is really to try and help people with what’s often referred to as impulse control. Just because something is raging in your mind and disturbing you, and you’re going off kilter big time, it doesn’t mean that you have to surrender to it and follow it. Just because your mind is directing you to do something that is actually not good, you don’t have to follow it. One can learn and become practiced in controlling these urges, and begin to do something, what I refer to as hitting the pause button, or taking a time out; that when things are getting heated a person learns to say, “Well I’m sorry, I’m having a hard time dealing with this. I’m not going to be able to react to what you’re saying in a way that’s going to be constructive. I need to step away and take a little time out.”
Of course, you go off and do some chanting or meditating and really calm down and, when you’re on an even keel, to consider, “Okay, what’s really in my best interest, and what’s in this other person’s best interest? How should I deal with this situation?” And when I’ve gone through that process I can come back and re-engage with a view to seeking a productive outcome.
This is a wonderful thing to be able to do. The world would be so much better if people, if we all, if I, all the time practice this. However, we are living in a time when people are encouraged to just give full—just to completely surrender to the urges of the mind, the desires, the urges of the senses, where this is the “just do it” world. And this is not good for society. This is not helpful. And we’re seeing, one of the major contributors, I feel, to the mental health crisis that the world is facing, is people not learning how to exercise control of the mind and of the senses, when to engage, when to bring it under control, when to step back.
The earlier verse we read, that the mind can be one’s greatest friend, but the uncontrolled mind, or unbridled mind, is one’s greatest enemy, and that’s just like a mind-blowing idea, that my own mind could be my greatest enemy.
Of course, it’s very obvious in people that are perceived to have severe mental health issues where they become so disconnected from the world that they act in the most unfortunate ways, where people also—a another thing is when people become disabled (and I use that word in the right way), disabled by severe depression, unable to function, unable to do things. When a person is suffering from a severe mental illness, these are all examples of people being absolutely victimized by the mind.
If we were our mind, then there’d be nothing wrong with people surrendering to and following their mind, even when it’s doing weird stuff, because that’s who you are. But the reality is that’s not who you are, and that’s why we feel there are things that are not normal. They’re abnormal. They’re not to be embraced. They need to be dealt with and fixed.
So, the reality is that there is so much unhappiness in this world that comes from an uncontrolled mind. If you think about almost all the varieties of unhappiness, within relationships, within society, within families—I mean so much of the unhappiness that people experience comes from an uncontrolled mind of at least one person in that setting, if not more. And people are just increasingly victimized by their minds.
Much of what people refer to as mental health issues are in fact a loss of control of one’s mind, and the loss of, or not exercising an ability that we actually have to direct the mind. So this whole thing with impulse control in all of its forms and all of the things associated—I mean I could sit here and rattle off a myriad of social and personal issues that arise from a lack of—or, they don’t actually arise from a lack of impulse control, they arise from other things but when people are not able to exercise impulse control.
So, the cultivation of spiritual awareness, of spiritual understanding, is actually so important, and it leads to what I refer to as becoming spiritually empowered. You are a spiritual being, and when you are empowered to take the reins—I mean they’ve got that saying. It’s an English saying, “to take the reins” means that you’re taking control of a carriage or a horse by seizing the reins and using them to control the horses. And this is the same as the Vedic understanding that if you don’t recognize your own spiritual existence, if you think the mind is you, then you will have these ideas that, “Oh, it’s all hopeless. It’s useless. I’m damaged. There’s so many things wrong with me.” No. The spiritual teaching of the Vedas is, No. You are perfect. You have become controlled by the mind, victimized by the mind, and the things that it’s going through, and you need to learn how to take the reins.
There is a much deeper perspective that I’ll just touch on, not wanting to get too deep here, in relation to the understanding of the mind from the yogic perspective. And I’m going to read a couple of verses here from the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. And it says in the fourth pada, or the fourth chapter, in the 19th sloka or verse:
“The mind is not self-illuminating, being itself an object of perception.”
So what they’re referring to here in the Sanskrit terminology, it means that which is knowable. So they make a distinction between the knower of things, and that which can be known, or that which is knowable. So you can observe your mind. You can look at the way it’s functioning. Even when it’s on a rage you can step back from it and observe what’s going on, which clearly indicates that you are not the mind. If you were the mind you couldn’t do that, but the fact that you have that capacity it shows you something of the nature of the mind. They refer to it as being “not self-illuminating.” It’s not shining knowledge on itself. Somebody else is the observer.
“Not being self-luminous, the mind cannot be aware of an object and itself (as the perceiver and perceived) at the same time.
Of course, that’s going to sound pretty odd perhaps to some people, but it has to do with the yogic practice. One of the central focuses of almost all yogic practice, by different methodologies and by different practices, was to actually gain control of the mind. And in some of the meditation that was practiced there was this attempt to really seize the mind and to examine it and to bring it into a state of non-activity. And there was this awareness in these exercises of how the mind is not self-luminous. I won’t go any further on that one.
In the next verse it states:
“The pure and transcendental consciousness of the atma, (or the self, or the soul), is unchangeable.”
The consciousness is unchangeable.
“When the mind receives a reflection of that consciousness it is able to perceive, and appears like the seer.”
So that’s a really extraordinary idea to contemplate upon, that the mind—it’s just like, let’s look at the body for a moment. The understanding is that it is because of the presence of the atma, the spiritual being, or the soul, that the body manifests symptoms of life and appears to be like a person. But as soon as that living being, that life force, that spiritual person leaves, the body is instantly—it’s called dead. And it is no longer attractive, and it instantly begins to start decomposing and transforming and breaking down. And from that one can, by their own observation, understand that that which has left the body is not just an energy, but it’s the actual person that has left.
The mind is also categorized as a material energy, and it’s because of the presence of the spiritual being and its proximity to the mind, that the mind now becomes activated, and it begins to take on the characteristics of the perceiver. Whereas in reality the understanding that one can cultivate and come to see, is that the perceiver is not the mind. The mind is like a movie screen, that a movie can be projected onto and reflected, and people can sit in the theatre and see it. In a similar way the perceptions that are come in through the senses are reflected on the mind. The mind is not doing the perceiving but there is another entity within, the seer, drishta, that is actually doing the seeing.
“The mind, being able to perceive due to the reflecting both the atma (or the self) and the objects of perception, appears to comprehend everything. Even though the mind has accumulated various impressions (and desires) of various types it is always at the disposal of the atma (or the self). This is because the mind cannot function without the power of the perceiver.”
So this is an astonishing level of detail that was cultivated by the transcendentalists who sought to take charge of their life and direct their life towards wonderful transcendental outcomes.
So I’ll read one other verse from the Bhagavat Purana speaking about the nature of this uncontrolled mind and the way in which it affects and influences us.
“The uncontrolled mind is the greatest enemy of the living entity. If one neglects it or gives it a chance it will grow more and more powerful and will become victorious. Although it is not factual it is very strong. It covers the constitutional position of the self, or the atma.”
I mean that’s an astonishing verse. And I’ll give you one rather crude example. I remember reading an interview with—what’s his name, the guy that starred in the Shining, well-known actor? It’ll come to me. I’m sorry. Jack Nicholson! And Jack Nicholson was talking about how he became so addicted to internet pornography that he was slavishly tied, frequently, to the computer, just going from one site to another one, this clip to another clip, to another clip. And just hours and hours of his life was being lost in a pursuit that neither delivered actual happiness or fulfillment or satisfaction, and was just wrecking his life. And when that idea dawned upon him, he unplugged the computer, picked it up, stepped out into the driveway, smashed the computer on the driveway, went back into the house and closed the door, he said.
So I mean that is one example. There are limitless examples that when one surrenders the control of their life to their mind and its desires and emotions how it can completely overtake your mind. So it states here that
“The uncontrolled mind is the greatest enemy of the living entity. If one neglects it or gives it a chance it will grow more and more powerful and become victorious. Although it is not factual [and I’ll speak to that in a second] it is very strong, and it covers the constitutional position of the self, the atma.”
So when it says it’s not factual here, means it is not eternal, nor is it actually a person. The living being is the one that sequests the power over to the mind.
So just in closing out, when Krishna spoke about this to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita, about the need to exercise control of the mind Arjuna’s response was that
“The mind is restless, turbulent, obstinate and very strong, O Krishna, and to subdue it, I think, is more difficult than controlling the wind.”
That’s a pretty amazing observation. Lord Sri Krishna’s response was,
“O mighty armed son of Kunti, it is undoubtedly very difficult to curb the restless mind, but it is possible by suitable practice and by detachment. For one whose mind is unbridled self-realization is difficult work, but he whose mind is controlled and who strives by appropriate means is assured of success. That is My opinion.”
And so you’ll see in all of the yoga processes by different methods and different types of activities there is the attempt to bring your life into more focus and control. And that means learning to have more control of your mind and not to be victimized by it.
One of the greatest ways that this becomes possible is through this process of hearing and chanting these transcendental sounds, these mantras that we use. Mantra is made of two parts, mana meaning the mind and tra means, actually it means to liberate one, so to become liberated from the control of the mind.
So what I’d like to invite you to do is to engage in this process so that—this is the means by which your life can be changed. And it’s so important to build a personal practice so that one can increasingly become transformed, purified, and feel so much more in control of your life, to become so much more happier and to—more peaceful, and to have a greater and more positive influence on those around you.
So I will sing the mantra Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana, and maybe go into the mahamantra also.
45:10 – 59:05 Kirtan
Thank you very, very much for joining us. And just a little reminder that if you have questions or things that you would like to hear about, please do let me know, either directly on Facebook or through—you can email me at [email protected] Thank you very much. Haribol.