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Disciplining the Mind
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on October 23, 1973.)

The necessity for the control of the mind arises on account of the structure of the relation of the mind to its object. This is a very important thing that we learned. The nature of things in the world demands that the mind has to be disciplined, and the process of the discipline and control of the mind is a very gradual and steady approach to the ideal before us, slowly dissociating and freeing the mind from its entanglements in external phenomena, then steadily rising to the internal conditioning factors of the mind until we come to the mind itself. We may compare the art of controlling the mind to the art of controlling a wild beast. We cannot suddenly approach it in order to bring it under our control. Many months and sometimes years of practice are necessary in subjugating a wild animal, and the mind is such.

At present, the mind is out of control. It does not listen to what is really good for us. The mind is after what is pleasant, and not what is really to its own benefit, like a naughty child who does not know what is for its own good. It will run to a precipice, it will go and catch a burning flame, it will try to brandish a razor or sword, not knowing its own limitations and strengths. The mind is compared to a monkey, a beast, a naughty child, a burning flame, an ocean, the sky and so on, all which amount to saying that it is not easy to control the mind.

Why is it so? The difficulty in the discipline of the mind is because the mind itself is the subject of action in this intricate process. We are used to thinking of objects, things and persons in the world who are brought into a sort of relation with the subjective mind. We can deal with things and persons in the world, but we cannot deal with the mind in any manner whatsoever because of the simple fact that the mind is the centre of action, and it is not the object towards which the action is directed.

Often this difficult procedure of controlling the mind is compared to the attempt of a person to climb on his own or her own shoulders. So difficult is the control of the mind, and yet it is a practicability and a possibility, though it is an uncanny, veiled, and unusual technique. The methods that we employ in dealing with things in the world cannot be employed here. While we can look at an object, we cannot look at the mind. We can study an object through a microscope, see a distant star through a telescope, but we cannot see the mind either with a microscope or with a telescope. We can think of an object as having quantitative measurements such as weight, mass, etc., but the mind has no weight and no mass. We are accustomed to thinking of things in space and in time as causally related items, but the mind is no such thing whatsoever. It is not in space and in time, and cannot be said to be causally related to anything similar to it, because there is nothing similar to the mind in the world. Well, we are in hot water almost. How are we to deal with this peculiar something called the mind, which is nothing?

In one of his books, Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj has defined the mind in a humorous way as thus: “The mind is something which is really nothing but does everything. This is the mind.” Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj's definition of the mind is that it is something which is really nothing but does everything. Very interesting! Yet we have to deal with it.

Now I will explain where comes the difficulty of dealing with the mind, after having told you all these aspects of its peculiarity and inscrutability. The control of the mind is in essence the control of our own self. We are trying to subjugate our own self. How can we control our own self when the controller and the controlled are one and the same? The ruler and the ruled, the king and the subject are identical, as it were. How can we exert an influence on our own self? How can we pass a rule or a mandate on our own self? How can we discipline our self, when the discipliner is the same as the disciplined? This is the peculiarity of the mind, and this is also the peculiarity of what we really and essentially are.

The Third Chapter of the Bhagavadgita, a wonderful scripture on yoga, gives us a very simple aphoristic instruction on the control of the mind. The mind cannot be easily controlled unless we adopt a method which is quite novel, which is not a method adopted in relation to things and objects in the world. While in the regulation, discipline, etc., of things outside we seem to move horizontally with things, in the control of the mind we have to move vertically with our own self. We do not move externally as we do in our dealings with the things of the world. This is not a movement outward in relation to things, persons and objects; this is a rise from the lower to the higher.

In the control of the mind we try to raise ourselves from a lower status of consciousness to a higher status. This is an ascent of the individual into the higher realms of wider and wider connotations of mind and self. This is not a causal relation of the subject with the object, it is not a connection that you establish between yourself and something outside, and it is not an order that you issue to someone alien to you or totally different from you. This is an inner transformation that you try to bring about in your own self by an act of what may be rightly called the contemplative process. The discipline of the mind is a process of inward contemplative transformation. It is an intrinsic adjustment and permutation and combination of constituents that takes place within the mind itself when we talk of control of the mind. Milk becomes curd. The process of milk becoming curd is an inner constitutional transformation of the stuff we call the milk. Someone from outside does not come and command the milk to become curd. An inner transformation takes place.

I can give another example. The child grows into an adult. The sapling becomes a tree. What do we call this process? It is an inner transformation constitutionally taking place in every part of the total that we call the personality, or whatever it is. No outward agent, external instrument, is necessary or even possible in the control of the mind. Who can control the mind, because the mind is the subject of action, as I mentioned already. The subject cannot be controlled by anyone else. The inward readjustment of the constituents of the mind is the process of the control of the mind.

In the beginning stages we have to start thinking in a logical manner, and should not think chaotically or in a confused way. This is the first step in the discipline of the mind. Every thought that occurs to your mind should be logically deducible from reasonable premises. You must have a mathematical mind, an algebraic mind, a geometrical mind, a logical mind, a systematic mind, a beautiful mind, an artistic mind, and so on, which means to say that your ways of thinking should be re-orientated completely. You have to become a new person altogether from today onwards if your intention is to discipline the mind. You alone can discipline your mind; somebody else cannot do it for you. You have to walk with your own legs. Somebody else cannot walk for you.

Now, while it is necessary to think logically and systematically because logic and system mean at the same time establishing harmony and balance in the system, it is also necessary to know what are the things that you have to think. What are the objects? What are the contents of the mind going to be in the process of this discipline?

The objects of the mind are the same as the contents of the mind. Here is a succinct idea as to what the object of the mind is, because it is necessary to know this when you are trying to think of controlling the mind. An object of the mind is not a solid physical substance like a stone, a person, a tree, etc., though in common parlance we speak of objects in this manner. When I speak of an object you are likely to think of objects as trees, mountains, persons, etc., but the object of the mind is not such a thing, as far as psychology is concerned. The object of the mind is that pattern or shape into which the mind casts itself when it comes in contact with a so-called physical object or even merely a notion. What affects your mind is not the object physically existing outside. What affects your mind is the shape or the mould into which the mind is cast. What affects your mind is the mind itself. Do not be under the notion that it is somebody else that is troubling you. The world outside, the people around you, the things that are created by God are not the troublemakers, though we are under the impression that all our troubles come from outside persons. The troubles, the pains and the pleasures of our life are ultimately to be equated with the internal transformations that the mind undergoes for reasons which we cannot easily explain at present.

Just as molten lead, molten gold or molten metal cast into a crucible takes the shape of the crucible, the mind takes the shape or the pattern of that particular object to which it is related, with which it is connected, to which it is attached, from which it is repelled, etc. So the discipline and control of the mind is ultimately a process of preventing the mind from casting itself into moulds of various patterns, etc. The mind should contemplate itself.

Aristotle's definition of God is thought thinking itself – not thought thinking an object, which would be human thinking and empirical thinking. As our intention in the practice of yoga is to grow into the divinity of Godhood, we have to slowly learn the art of freeing the mind from the necessity of casting itself into moulds of empirical characters.

The Bhagavadgita gives us a clue to this process. The senses and the mind are connected with each other. The senses are the channels through which the mind operates in terms of objects. The senses may be said to be the rays of the light which is the mind inside. Just as the rays of the sun emanate in all directions in empty space, the rays of the mind get projected through the apertures of the senses in relation to the objects of desire of the mind.

We have five senses of perception, as you all know. Among the many ramifications of the mind, we may be here concerned with the five main branches of its activity, which we call the sensations of the eyes, ears, etc. Vision, audition, tangibility, smell and such conscious contacts of the mind with an object outside positively actuated through love or negatively brought about by hatred may cause transformations of this character. We have heard it said that we should neither love nor hate. We should not have attachments and hatreds, saints and sages tell us. Why should this instruction be given to us? It is because attachments and hatreds are the obverse and reverse of the same coin of connection with things, and the moment the mind is connected with things outside, it is cut off from the infinite source which is its real aim and objective. Finitude is the nature of the mind. Infinitude is its aim and objective. The finite has to rise from its limited existence to the infinite expanse of the Absolute.

The movement of the finite to the infinite is not a movement in space. We are not travelling as in a plane when we move towards the Absolute. It is not a movement in space and time. It is a self-expansion of consciousness. The whole process of yoga is a process of the evolution of consciousness, and is not an activity of the senses or the body. It is not an activity at all in the ordinary sense of the term. It is a self-evolution of consciousness in all directions, in quantity as well as in quality. While quantitatively this implies the expansion of its perspective of comprehension, qualitatively it implies the deepening of its comprehension, going to the root of its very rise in the activity, so that in the gradual rise of consciousness to its ideal or goal it moves in a twofold direction, outwardly and inwardly, quantitatively and qualitatively, comprehensively and also intensively.

God, the Absolute, which is the goal of the practice of yoga and the goal of the evolution of the entire cosmos, has two characters: infinitude and subjectivity. Infinitude implies transcendence of space and time. Subjectivity implies freedom from the consciousness of externality. This is what we mean by ‘the Atman' in Sanskrit. The term ‘Atman' really means the character of subjectivity in consciousness which refuses to get related to anything outside it. God cannot be related to anyone else. The Absolute cannot be connected with relative particularities because the relative is inside the Absolute itself, so how can the infinite be connected with something else? That character of the Infinite or the Absolute which prevents it from being related externally through causal relation and makes it exist as what it is, that which is, that character is called the Atman, the Self, or the pure subjectivity in our personality.

But lest we should think that this subjectivity is limited to our own bodily encasement, we are also told that it is infinite. Infinite subjectivity is inconceivable to the mind. In the Bhagavadgita, Bhagavan Sri Krishna tells us that the more you gravitate towards this ideal in your contemplative processes, the more is it possible for you to control the mind and the senses. Unless you take the help of the higher forces, the lower demonical elements cannot be controlled. Ethics is nothing but the determination of the lower principles by the higher features characterising reality. The lowest concept of the mind is of objects. The next higher concept is of the senses. The next higher is the mind. Higher than the mind is the intellect. Higher than the intellect is yourself, which is indistinguishable from the Infinite or the Absolute.

In the Third Chapter of the Gita there are one or two verses pertinent to this self-analysis. Indriyāṇi parāṇy āhur indriyebhyaḥ paraṃ manaḥ, manasas tu parā buddhir yo buddheḥ paratas tu saḥ (BG 3.42): Indriyas, or the senses, are superior in their functional aspect to the gross physical objects outside because the capacity of the senses to perceive or cognise determines the nature of the reaction that the objects produce in relation to our mind. So in that sense, we may say that the cognitional or the perceptive senses are superior to the physical objects. But inasmuch as the senses are only operational branches of the mind, the mind is superior to the senses. But the mind is not the highest faculty in us. There is something higher than the mind, which is the intellect, the understanding, the judging faculty in us. The higher should control the lower, and the highest is the Self.

The control of the mind, therefore, calls for external discipline and also internal contemplative austerity. Externally we are to so adjust our conduct, needs and activities in the world so that the people around us, the atmosphere in which we live, the things which are connected with us, the diet that we eat, the breath that we breathe, and so on, should not be in any manner contradictory to the ideals that we are cherishing in our mind.

You should live in a place which should be at least to a large extent, in a great proportion, conducive to the fulfilment of your aims. You should not be always in a cinema theatre or a club, for example, or in the hubbub of a big city, an atmosphere which attracts the senses and distracts their attention. The choice of the place or the abode of your living is the first thing. Sequestration is essential, even physically. Live in a place which is comparatively free from attractions of sense. Live in a place which is comparatively free from those factors which will stimulate your egoism. Live in such a place and have such an abode in an atmosphere which is not merely free from negative factors of distraction, but also enshrines positive factors which are constructively helpful in your contemplations. Monasteries, holy ashrams, the abodes of saints and sages, mahatmas, temples, even forests and the banks of holy rivers are conducive in a large measure to spiritual practice. This is to speak of purely external factors.

But you have also to condition your own personal life accordingly; namely, you should not keep such things the loss of which may cause you troubles and grief and sorrow in your mind. That is why sadhakas do not keep things which are unnecessary for the progress that they are seeking in their spiritual lives. Keep only those things which are necessary for your existence as a spiritual seeker. Speak and keep contact with only such persons who are helpful to you in your spiritual practice, or at least not opposed to your spiritual practice.

And, together with all these, have a disciplined daily program. You must be sure as to what you are going to do throughout the day from the morning till the evening. When you get up in the morning, have a schedule in your mind: This is what I am going to do today. So much time is set apart for such and such a thing. You have to include in your daily spiritual diary such items as study of elevating philosophical and spiritual texts, japa of a mantra or formula or a stotra, passage, chant or song which will ennoble your feelings and help you in the concentration of your mind.

You must also have a chosen method of meditation. This is called the initiation that one receives from the Guru. You are told that a Guru is necessary and initiation is necessary, etc., which means to say that you have to be told as to how you have to adjust your thought in the spiritual practices which are ultimately going to culminate in meditation or inward contemplation. It is difficult to choose the path of meditation. Meditation is the most difficult thing conceivable in life. That is the fruit that the tree of life bears after it is nurtured with great effort right from your childhood. Everything is easy in this world; the only difficult thing is the collection of the mind, the concentration or focusing of its attention, and contemplation and meditation on the universal goal that is before you. The most difficult thing that you can achieve is this. This is why it is said that the Guru, a master, a guide, an adept to point out the way to you is necessary.

You will realise that the spiritual path is not going to be rosy. You are not going to drink milk and honey when you are spiritual seeker. You have to walk on thorny bushes, stones and whatnot. The path is precipitous, difficult to tread, sharp like a razor or a sword, as the Upanishad puts it. Difficulties are many, and you will not know what difficulties will be ahead of you in your spiritual pursuits because you can see only one step ahead of you, not many miles. You cannot use binoculars or a set of telescopes to see the distant future in the spiritual pursuit of the soul. One step at a time alone will be seen. Two steps cannot be seen. Suddenly you will be taken unawares. Something will present itself before you as a phenomenon, and you will not know what is before you. Even Christ had his ups and downs of approach, and Satan tempted even Christ. Buddha also had this experience. Of all the dramatic descriptions of spiritual transformation that we have in our written texts, the life of the Buddha is most poignant and pertinent. You can read the sixth chapter of The Light of Asia by Edwin Arnold to get an idea as to what these wonderful, difficult obstacles could be on the path of the spiritual seeker.

The world will put on new colours when you try to confront it. When you touch a cobra, you can know what the cobra is; otherwise, it is silent. It will coil itself like a beautiful garland and sit in a corner; but if you touch it, you will know what it is. If you rub a man, you know what the man is. You cannot know the nature of a person unless you rub that person hard; otherwise, everything looks beautiful and he is a friend. Do not have the misconception that anybody is your friend in this world. All the forces of the world will turn against you when you are unable to set yourself in tune with them, which is the obstacle on the path of yoga. You will be left in the middle of the sea, as it were. Friends will depart, the ground will be cut from under your feet, and you will not know what is going to be your fate the next moment. Buddha had such an experience. He was terrorised from all sides by forces which he could not imagine, and he was tempted: Here are the wonderful, beautiful, grand presentations of the universe. How beautiful are things! Look at the beauty of the cosmos. These are the gifts. Spiritual gifts will come to you. More beautiful things will come to you than all the beauties that you can think of in this world. Buddha was shown this presentation. Nachiketas also faced these difficulties, as it is said in the Katha Upanishad.

When you are strong enough to resist these temptations of pleasantness and beauty, you will be opposed by terror. Thunderstorms will start rising from all sides. You will see a cloud coming on your head. Death will threaten you. Buddha felt that he was dying. He had pleasant temptations also, which he resisted. Then terrors came, fears, thunderbolts, cudgels. If you cannot also resist that, you will be taken along the wrong path, all while being told that it is the right path, just as if you ask me which is the road to Badrinath and I tell you the way, but you believe someone else and reach Delhi instead of Badrinath. Contradictory and opposing forces of nature will tell you the wrong thing. The devil will speak, and you will think it is God speaking. All these obstacles are to be expected in the path of yoga. The control of the mind is not an easy affair.

But, says Bhagavan Sri Krishna, if you take resort to the higher forces which are more integrating and comprehensive, ultimately resorting to the Self, the supreme Parmatman, Ishvara, God, the Absolute Himself, if you take resort to Him, strength will be drawn from Him. God Himself will help you. While all the forces may be set against you at a particular moment of your practice, while it will appear as if there are only clouds, wind, thunderstorms and darkness everywhere, it will not continue for long. The clouds will disperse; the sun will shine. It will all be brilliant sunshine, beauty, warmth and clarity of perception if only you have the patience to wait for the day. So one of the most important qualifications for a seeker is patience. Do not be too anxious, thinking, “Oh, what next, what next, what next?” You will know what will come next. “Sufficient until the day of the evil thereof” (Matthew 6.34). One thing at a time is sufficient for you. Do not try to know everything at the same moment of time. Everything will be unfolded before you gradually, systematically, one after the other, until glory will be the name of your final achievement.

The control of the mind, therefore, should start from the external, move towards the internal, and rise towards the Absolute. Japa of the mantra is essential. Yajñānāṁ japayajño'smi (BG 10.24): Of all the spiritual contemplative sacrifices that you can think of, says Bhagavan Sri Krishna in the Gita, japa is the best. Japa is a kind of meditation itself. It leads to meditation and merges into it. They are not two different things. Japa of a mantra is very, very essential, and study of spiritual texts is equally essential. Study the Bhagavadgita, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Yoga Vasishtha, the Upanishads, the Sermon on the Mount, the Dhammapada; and such scriptures of similar value may be taken as books for your svadhyaya, which should be a daily feature like your lunch, breakfast or dinner. You should not miss it even a single day. Every day you must sit, even if there is no concentration. Sometimes you may not be able to meditate properly because you are worried. Even then you sit. You should not miss the item of your sitting for meditation, japa and svadhyaya merely because of the fact you have some engagements or you are disturbed that day. It does not matter. Sit. This practice of sitting at an appointed hour for these practices is very essential in the pursuit of your spiritual diary.

Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was always insisting on what he called the trishula. Trishula means a trident. Lord Siva is said to have a trident with him with three prongs. The three prongs of spiritual practice, according to Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, are spiritual diary, daily routine, and disciplined vows which we have to take. Vows or observances, a daily routine or schedule, and a spiritual diary are the three aspects of self-discipline. The vows are: “I shall behave only in this manner; I shall not behave in that manner. Today on this auspicious occasion, on this holy bank of the Ganga, in the purifying atmosphere of the Himalayas, in front of the sacred shrine of Swami Sivananda, I take this vow that I shall not tell a lie even if my throat is to be cut. I shall not be incontinent deliberately. I shall not violate the principles of ahimsa. I shall not hurt others' feelings for any reason whatsoever. I shall not drink, I shall not smoke, I shall not take a non-vegetarian diet. I shall not harm.” These are some of the vows or determinations that one can make.

And have a daily routine. You must be quite sure as to what you are going to do on a particular day, at what particular time. This is daily routine, well fixed beforehand. Then have the spiritual diary. You have seen a specimen of it here as given by Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. It has so many questions, such as when you got up from bed, how many minutes of exercises you did, how much pranayama, how much you have studied, how much bad company and good company you have kept, and so on. These questions can be modified to suit your own atmosphere and the station in which you are living. These are some of the tips that Swamiji has given to us for self-control, self-discipline and spiritual regeneration.