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Sessions with Ashram Residents
by Swami Krishnananda

Session 28: The Art of Handling Irrelevant Thinking

Students of yoga say that their mind is not cooperating, that there is distraction. But who causes the distraction? This is a very interesting psychological operation. Every kind of concentration or meditation is an instruction given to the mind to change its habit. You are telling the mind to change its behaviour and think in a different way than the way in which it is thinking, and it resents this advice. If you tell anybody to change their way of thinking, to change their behaviour, they will fly into a rage and say, “Who are you to talk to me like that? You are giving me advice?”

The mind also says that: “Who are you? I am thinking as I want to think. It is my normal way of thinking, and now you are telling me that you are doing something called meditation. Who cares? You are telling me to change my behaviour. It is the worst thing that you can tell anybody. No, nothing of the kind.” This is called distraction. It is not the marketplace or the railway train that is distracting you; it is something happening inside. The mind resents any kind of instruction because an instruction is to make it accept a change, and nobody likes change. To bring about some change anywhere, immediately there is an uproar. It will say, “Who is this man to introduce changes? We are perfectly all right.” It is the same trouble arising in society as in one's own self. It is a kind of insult. It feels, “You are insulting me by saying that I must change my behaviour. I will teach you a lesson. Get up!”

In this connection, there is a very interesting story in the Mahabharata which illustrates this difficulty of handling the mind. The war of the Mahabharata is something known to you all. There was a feud between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. When reconciliation did not work out well, they thought the best thing is war. The Pandavas were camping on one side, and the Kauravas under Duryodhana were camping on the other side. All the kings of the country were invited, some on behalf of Yudhisthira and some on behalf of Duryodhana.

The uncle of Yudhisthira, who was the brother of the second wife of his father Pandu, was called Shalya. He was a very powerful person. He pitied the Pandavas and thought, “These poor boys are suffering, and I must help them.” He gathered an army that was huge like a sea, and moved towards the camp of the Pandavas to tell Yudhisthira that he was with him.

Duryodhana, the other side, understood this move. He thought, “This is a dangerous thing. If this large army goes to the Pandavas, it will be a great disadvantage for me. I must satisfy Shalya so that he may help me, but if I go to him openly he will not do that because he is favouring the Pandavas.”

What Duryodhana did was, he set up a beautiful reception camp on the way where Shalya was moving with his army. He hid himself behind it because if he stood there it won't work. He told the receptionist to be so kind to Shalya, and many hundreds of beautiful tents were set up with music and beautiful beds, and dinner was arranged for them.

The tired Shalya came. He thought that this must have been arranged by Yudhisthira because he was moving towards them. “Oh, what great pains he has taken for me. I am certainly going to help him.”

At that time Duryodhana came and said that he had prepared it all.

Shalya said, “You have done this arrangement? I thought it was the Pandavas.”

Duryodhana replied, “No, I have done it.”

Shalya felt, “What is this? It is a very difficult situation. I promised within myself that I am going to help the man who has received me with such kindness and with such beauty.” He was in a bottleneck.

Shalya told Duryodhana, “I am very sorry you have tricked me, Duryodhana. But anyhow, when I utter a word, I will not withdraw it. I have told myself whoever has arranged this beautiful reception for me, I must help that man. I will keep my word. I will help you, but I am very sorry for all that has happened.”

Then Duryodhana left with great joy that now Shalya would be on his side.

Shalya left his army somewhere and went alone to the camp of Yudhisthira and told him, “This is what has happened. I am very sorry. I gave a promise to Duryodhana that I would help him instead of you because he tricked me on the way.”

Yudhisthira said, “You have done the right thing, Uncle. After all, he is my brother; why not help him? I am very happy. Please help him. After all, you see, we are brothers. When there is a quarrel between us, we are five and they are a hundred, but when there is a quarrel with somebody else, we are jointly a hundred and five.” That is the goodness of Yudhisthira. “Very good, very good, Uncle. You have done the right thing in helping my brother. He deserves help. But help me also. I am a humble servant of yours.”

Now Shalya thought, “How will I help? My army has gone. Duryodhana tricked me, and now I am going to trick him also.” He said, “Listen Yudhisthira, my dear boy. Karna is a braggart. He thinks he's the greatest warrior, but he has no charioteer. He will certainly come to me and beg me to become his charioteer. I will insult him forthwith. I will insult him from beginning to end, and bring his spirits down so that half of his energy will go away. That is the help I can give.”

Yudhisthira said, “What can I say? Please help me.”

So when Karna had the chance, he drove his chariot to Shalya and then requested, “Shalya, great master, I am helpless. I request you to drive my chariot.”

Shalya replied, “Idiot! You have the courage to ask me to be your charioteer? You fellow, you are a carpenter's son and I am a king. You ask a king to be your charioteer? Shameless man!” In the beginning itself Shalya talked to Karna like that. Then he said, “Hey, do you know whom you are going to face? You are going to face Arjuna, who will end you in one day.”

Karna replied, “You talk to me like that? You are a charioteer. Get down from here. I would split your tongue just now, but I cannot do that because I have no other charioteer. You talk to me like that? I'll kick you down just now! I'll beat you and make you eat dust.”

“Hey,” Shalya said. “What are you saying? You are a frog and Arjuna is an elephant. You talk like that to me? Who are you?”

“I am sorry.” Karna wept. “Is there no other person for me than this man who is insulting me? What kind of charioteer have I got? A charioteer is supposed to enthuse the man, and you are putting me down. I am helpless!”

Shalya said, “Hey, beware who Arjuna is. You are a crow and he is a swan. He is a fierce fire and you are a straw.”

“Again Karna said. “Hey! You are talking to me in this way from beginning to end.” So Karna felt highly dispirited. He went to the war with half of his energy gone. In this way, Shalya helped the Pandavas. The Mahabharata is a wonderful illustration of every kind of behaviour of a person.

This is what the mind is doing. You try to change its behaviour, and then you say, “My mind is distracted. I cannot meditate. This Guru is no good. He exploits his students. I will go to some other Guru. All the Gurus are useless people. I am going for a long yatra, a pilgrimage somewhere. I will have a garden of my own. I will tend my beautiful flowers. These flowers are sufficient. I don't want wretched Gurus.” This goes on and on and on, only because you have insulted the mind by telling it to change its attitude. There is no greater insult to a person than to tell him to change his behaviour, and you are doing that by going for meditation. This is not the way. You should not suddenly tell the mind, “Change your behaviour.” Even if you want a person to change his pattern of living, there is a way of being friendly and cajoling, having a conciliatory and teasing way of handling a thing. Even a naughty child will not like to be told, “Don't do this!” The more you say that, the more it will stick to its guns. “I will do this only,” the child will say.

“Don't go to the other side. There is a precipice,” says the mother.

“No, I will go,” says the child. And the mother has to pull the child away. This is exactly what the mind does.

Nobody is troubling you. You are trying to do something which is resented by the mind. You may ask, “Why is the mind resenting it? Is meditation a bad thing?” Meditation is not a bad thing, but the way you are understanding meditation is not correct. If even an expert doctor does not handle a patient sympathetically, and scolds him, that patient will not recover. So is the case with a teacher in a school or a college. You cannot penalise students and say they are all corrupt, rebellious elements. This attitude will not work anywhere. You cannot curse even a tree because it will resent it. J.C. Bose discovered that if you talk ill of a tree, it will know. Suppose a gardener says “Tomorrow I will cut this tree”, the tree will know this, and it will tremble. By an electromagnetic metre it can be shown what the tree is doing, and the next day when the gardener walks past it, it will tremble. But if a gardener is kind—“My dear tree, I like you very much. I will water you, manure you. How beautiful you are!”—the tree will smile. You do not believe that flowers can smile. The harvest in the field can smile. Beautiful music enhances the crop. You should not say, “Oh wretched thing. Crows are coming.” You should not talk like that.

The art of meditation is nothing but the art of handling irrelevant thinking. Naughty children, and people who refuse to take any advice, how will you handle them? Mostly you want to wage war. It won't work. You cannot wage war against your own self.

Sometimes you make a mistake in choosing the object of meditation. Either you choose some particular form or some deity—Rama, Krishna, Devi, Jesus Christ, Mohammed, whatever it is—or you go to the other extreme of abstract meditation on pure consciousness. The mind will not agree to either of these. Abstract consciousness is beyond its conception, so however much you may struggle, you will reap no benefit.

But in the method of choosing a particular deity, there is another trouble. Here also, the mind doesn't understand what is meant by a particular deity. It thinks that a particular deity is something differentiated from other deities. This is, again, a mistake. The divinity that you have chosen for meditation is not one of the many possible divinities. If that is the case, then the mind will say, “Why not go to that god? I like Siva more than Rama, and Krishna more than Jesus.” But the chosen deity is not one of the possible forms of divinity. It is the only form that can be in your mind. The object of meditation, even if it is a particular form, is a comprehensive appearance before you, something like a piece of glass which is concave or convex, attracting sunlight. It draws the energy of all the rays of the sun into itself, and concentrated rays falling on it can create greater heat than dispersed rays can create.

The chosen deity is not one of the deities, it is the only deity. But what is the meaning of saying all this? When there are many possible things, why am I saying this is the only thing? It is because among all the possible forms, you have chosen this as the best; otherwise, you would have chosen a better one. Having chosen one and deliberately accepting that it is the best one, there is no use of complaining that perhaps others are also possible of experimentation. “I have been living with this Guru for twenty years. I will go to another.” That means you have not chosen properly.

The object of meditation, even if it looks like a single form, is the meeting point of a cosmic ramification of energy. By the thought of the completeness of the form of the object of meditation, the complete process of the universe will impinge upon it. You can touch a pencil and draw the energy of the cosmos into it. Every particle of matter in this world is connected to every other particle. Every part of the body is connected to every other part of the body. If you touch one part of the body, you have touched the whole body. The entire body will know it. It is necessary for you to accept the superior understanding that any form is the same as any other form. “Which god is better for me, this one or that one?” This doubt has no meaning. Any form is as good as any other form, just as you can touch the body through any limb of the body.

The power of the thought of the meditator is what is behind the process of energising that particular form. When you erect a temple and newly install a statue, what is called prana prathista is done first. The energy of God is invoked into that particular statue that you consider as your deity. The stone, the image or the symbol gets charged with the flowing of currents of force from all parts of the universe. The prana is introduced into it by the deep concentration of the mind of the performer and the recitations of mantras which are equally powerful. You don't simply keep a statue and worship it. Prana prathista is the invocation of life into the statue, the idol, the diagram.

Some people worship only diagrams. Those people who worship according to the Tantra Shastra worship a diagram called Sri Chakra, which is an architect's plan of the nature of the whole universe. As the shape of a future building can be seen from the architect's drawing, this particular diagram, which is highly complicated, represents the structure of the whole cosmos in various levels of intensity. You can invoke the whole universe through that little diagram. You can keep a painted picture and draw the whole energy into it, because you are not seeing a picture, you are seeing that which represents the picture. The visible object is only a representation, a symbol of another thing which is in your mind.

People hang photographs of dead people in their rooms. Your father died, and you keep a photo of him. What is there in that photo? It is a little paper and ink. Are you worshipping paper and ink? No. It is a symbol that you have drawn of the father whom you loved very much, and that love for the father once again enters your mind by seeing the symbol before you. Even a rupee coin, a dollar note, is a symbol of currency value. The dollar note is only paper and ink. Do you say you are carrying some piece of paper with ink on it? That value which you see in it is more important than the physical aspect of it. A coin is not a metal piece. The metal piece is only the outer form into which has been invoked a force which is calledeconomic value.

Everything that we see in this world is of that nature. The things as they are themselves are only representations, symbols, diagrams, photographs, pictures, shadows of the real thing. As we cannot go on thinking of a shadow or a picture, our mind infuses an energy which is the ideal that is maintained in the mind on everything.

You see a person and say, “I love you very much.” What are you loving? You cannot love the skin and the bones and the flesh of that person. You have infused into that physical form an idea that is in your mind. The idea that is in your mind is beautiful, and you infuse that into a physical form which is as good as any other physical form. This body is mud and stone, there is nothing more than that, but the mud and stone look beautiful when it is an architectural or a sculptural piece. Everything that you see in this world is of this nature. Nothing by itself has any sense, but we infuse sense into everything; because of this, we behave towards it in one way or another.

So is the case with our attitude in meditation. You should never say: “This is to be rejected.” This idea must go. Many people think, “In meditation, I reject thoughts.” The mind will not allow this method. You want to reject something. What is wrong with it? This idea of rejection is really abominable. In this world there is basically nothing rejectable. It is by comparison and contrast you are making this arrangement of liking and not liking. When you say “I have abandoned this”, you think over what is happening. You are again thinking of that thing which you seem to have abandoned. You cannot know that you have abandoned something unless your mind is already there in that object which you seem to have abandoned, so you have not abandoned anything. The mind is still thinking of that which it has abandoned. You say, “I have renounced all my land and property, my house, my wife, everything.” Why do you say that? If you have really abandoned them, you will not say that you have abandoned them. A person who has been healed of illness will not go on saying, “I have abandoned the sickness. I have rejected it.” Will anybody talk like that? Anything that you have really abandoned cannot enter your mind a second time. So to go on saying “I have rejected everything; I have abandoned everybody; I have no responsibility” is a foolish way of thinking. The mind is a greater teacher to us than any Guru in this world.

What you should do is, be honest to your own mental way of thinking. Renunciation is necessary for a Sannyasin. All Sannyasins feel they have renounced the whole world. They are sitting on the surface of the earth and then they say, “I have renounced the whole world.” You are eating the food which is given by the earth, and you say, “I have renounced the whole world.” You put on a cloth which comes by spinning cotton, and then you say, “I have renounced the whole world.” What have you renounced, actually? Here also is a mistake in the concept of renunciation.

Renunciation does not mean absenting yourself from the location of something which you think you have abandoned. Renunciation is the abandonment of the wrong idea that things are outside you. The moment you are able to convince yourself that nothing in the world is really outside you, you have automatically renounced everything, because you can renounce a thing only if there is something outside you. You don't renounce your own self. This one trick works very well. There will be no problem afterwards. If the mind that is hankering for things finds that a thing that it wants is impinging upon it every moment and nothing is external to its want, this craving for another thing—the word 'another' should be underlined—ceases immediately because that which you want is not another thing. It is a thing as near to you as your own self.

There are no distances between objects. There is not even a really conceivable distance between the earth and the sun. There is no great distance between the stars and the place where you are sitting, but we say the stars are so many light years away. These stars are sitting in your own body in a microcosmic form. The sun, moon and stars, the mountains and the rivers are inside us. The Chhandogya Upanishad tells us whatever is happening outside in the world happens inside us also. If it rains outside, it is raining inside also, and if you don't consider this, you will fall sick. You will catch a cold. You will have a sore throat. You don't accept that the rain is also inside. So you should not eat things which are not suitable when it is raining inside. There is also thunder inside. There cannot be a purely external action. It is a cosmic operation taking place. If anything happens anywhere, it is also happening in you.

Meditation is not a concentration of yourself on something else. The mind rejects the idea of 'something else'. You don't want something else; you want yourself only. You have to become another person. But another person is yourself only. All the things of the world that appear to be spread out in long distances are touching your very skin, actually. You can invoke them just now by deep affirmation of their presence here and now.

If God is said to be here and now, everything in His creation is also here and now. Why should God be here and now, and mountains be many miles away from us? Nothing that God has created is not here and now. Whatever the creation of God is, it is the same as God Himself. You have to behave with the things of the world in the same way as you behave with God. You are thinking, “Things are all outside, far away. Who bothers? Something is taking place somewhere. I am comfortable here.” Nothing is taking place somewhere else.

Modern science has demonstrated that events do not take place in space. If events do not take place in space, where are they taking place? They are taking place in a spaceless existence. The spacelessness of the event makes it a cosmic event. Every event which appears to be taking place in one place is taking place everywhere.A philosopher said, “At the birth of every event, the whole world is in travail.” 'Travail' means birth pangs. The pangs of the birth of a child in the form of an event anywhere in the world are felt by the whole cosmos, which is the mother. The universe is the mother of every event that takes place anywhere, as if a child is born. There is no event, no birth of a child, no action taking place without the knowledge of everything in the world. Are we not reminded again and again of the beautiful statement of a poet who said that you cannot touch the petals of a flower in your garden without disturbing the stars in heaven? There is no secrecy. A hymn in the Atharvaveda says that if you utter one word secretly, in a corner, in the ear of a person, it goes like a thunderbolt and is felt in the highest heaven. Even a whispered secret is felt like a thunderbolt in the high heavens. Does not the body feel the pain if there is a prick of a thorn in even the tip of the toe? Is it only the toe that is feeling the pain? The whole body is agitated, and forces are released to repel that enemy. So does the world act.

Meditation is centring one's consciousness on the ultimate meaning of all things. Meaningless attitudes towards anything will not bring you anything. But if you are habituated to only one way of thinking, it is like the conversation between Karna and Shalya. Both were very adamant. “You are like that.” “You are like that.” “Don't talk.” “Don't talk.” This was told to Buddha himself when he was in deep meditation. “Hey, foolish man, what are you doing here? Do your duty. Your wife and children are crying there. Get up and serve the world. You are pursuing a will-o'-the-wisp, a phantom, a passing wind. Get up from this place.” This is not only for Buddha, it is forus also.

People say, “What are you doing? Unnecessarily you have come to the Sivananda Ashram. Have you no other work? Go back and do some good work. Serve the people. People are suffering everywhere. You are trying to catch God, but nothing of the kind will work. Don't pursue a will-o'-the-wisp. Nothing will come. Everywhere people are suffering without food and clothing, and you are meditating. Who cares? Go.” Buddha was told this, and you are also told this. You will think, “I think there is some truth in it. Oh, I see. It is better to serve people. People are the same as God. God is in the people only.” But they don't understand what kind of people they are serving. This is another aspect of the matter.

Great obstacles of every conceivable kind place themselves before you. Nachiketas could not get a clear answer to his question from a mighty Guru like Yamaraj, and you want the answer for it in the state of an immature mind. What are the obstacles that came before him? Not thorns, not thunderstorms, not hunger and thirst. These were not the obstacles that came before Nachiketas. All the glory of the world is before you. Do you consider it as an obstacle? Who on earth will think like that? All the wealth and glory and authority of the whole empire of the world is yours. Do you think 'obstacle' means something pricking and causing pain? An obstacle need not be only a pain-giving thing. It can produce great pleasure, which is a greater obstacle than pain. When it is a painful experience, at least you know that it is not a proper thing, but when it is a great joy that is flooding you from all sides, you can never think it is an obstacle. It is easier to bind a person by affection than by hatred. The intention is to bind that person, though it looks like affection and love.

Hegel, the great philosopher, wrote a book called The Phenomenology of Mind, a thoroughgoing analysis of the mental process. We have a dislike for everything. The personality asserts itself as the only possible reality. “I am the only possible reality. I cannot concede this right to anybody else. I reject everybody else.” We cannot really love anybody. Rather, we reject everything, but we reject it in a different way. It is very important to note this. In actual rejection, you simply kick the person out, but that does not work because even after your having renounced, thrown away something, your mind is thinking of that thing, as I told you earlier, and it has not gone away from your mind. Even that which you have rejected is mentally accepted. But in love, you destroy a person. In love, you try to absorb the individuality of that person into your individuality so that the individuality of that person who is loved ceases. You have destroyed the individuality of the person by saying “I love you” because you absorb that person. There are two ways of destroying a person. By absorbing that person into yourself and making them cease to exist, you have won victory over that person. Or, the other way is by physically disliking them. But that physical disliking does not work because the mind is thinking of the very act of having rejected them, so it is a misnomer. And in love you have rejected them. Everything is an art played by the mind of rejecting everything except one's own self:“I am supreme. I am everything.” But before the large society of people around you, you feel a great discomfort in saying “I am everything” because other people are there. So you destroy them either by physically throwing them out or by loving them and absorbing them, and making them cease to exist. It is a very great analysis. The ego works in various ways.

This is what happened to Buddha, the great saint, but he finally realised this is a kind of trick that the mind plays. This kind of trouble arises only in advanced forms of meditation. In the beginning, you will feel no obstacle. If a little puppy starts barking before an elephant, what does the elephant care? It won't even recognise the existence of that yelping puppy. The mighty powers of nature do not recognise your meditation, so everything seems to be fine. But if it is an elephant facing another elephant, then they will be confronting each other.

So your meditation should be like an elephant, as strong as the universe itself. When it kicks up a row, then all these obstacles arise—beautiful things, ugly things, threatening things. Death itself will come and threaten you: “I will finish you just now.” But this will not take place in the early days of meditation when you are only like a puppy yelping before an elephant. You have not risen above natural forces, so everything looks fine. If you think, “I am doing japa and meditation. I will stand against the universe, and I am going to absorb it into myself ” then you will see what happens.

This is the message for today.