MAKING FRIENDS WITH THE MIND
In the West today, the idea of “mindfulness” is very popular. The term mindfulness comes from Buddhist tradition, where it is generally understood to be a kind of monitoring of the mind. It is a practice of watching how one’s own mind is functioning.
Unfortunately, in this mindfulness movement there is no understanding of what is the function of the mind in relation to the self, because there is no understanding of the existence of the self. There are a lot of techniques for doing this monitoring of the mind, but there is no real purpose of this monitoring except to feel better, to be more peaceful, and perhaps to function more effectively in the world.
So, this Buddhist idea of mindfulness is like half of the story. Mindfulness is a good idea if you know what is the mind and what is the purpose of controlling it. What is missing in the mindfulness movement is the recognition of the need to go ultimately from mindfulness to heartfulness, monitoring of the heart.
In the Bhagavad-gita (17.16), Krishna gives interesting insights into mindfulness. This the third verse in a series of three verses where Krishna is speaking of tapa, austerity in the mode of goodness. Krishna says:
bhāva-saṁśuddhir ity etat
tapo mānasam ucyate
“And satisfaction, simplicity, gravity, self-control and purification of one’s existence are the austerities of the mind.”
Here, what Krishna describes we usually don’t call tapasya. First, “satisfaction of the mind.” How is that austerity? We usually think of austerity as some effort which requires some kind of straining. Satisfaction of the mind does not sound like straining.
Satisfaction of the mind is an austerity because the mind tends to be never satisfied. And the mind tends to look for satisfaction in the engagement with this world, with our perceptions through the senses of the body. And of course, the experiences of our senses are constantly changing. Therefore, turning the attention of our minds to our senses in search of satisfaction will always have the opposite result.
Think about the story of Lord Brahma as he is finding himself on the lotus wondering who he is and what is the purpose of his life. He is looking around but there is nothing there even to look at, because he has not created anything yet. It is dark. And then he hears the invisible voice saying, “Tapa tapa!” and he immediately understands, “All right, I will do that.” He practices tapasya for a very long time. What exactly was his austerity? What could he do anyway? There was nothing to do. Well, one thing he could do was to make it a point to be satisfied in the mind.
Then saumyatvam. In the word-for-word synonyms it is translated “being without duplicity towards others.” And in the sentence translation it is referred to as “simplicity.”
Saumyatvam can also be translated as “gentleness.” If we think about gentleness in terms of the mind, then what would be the opposite of it? Violence, or harshness. So, speaking of austerity of the mind, “Be gentle!” points to our tendency to not be gentle. And this invites us to do some deep reflection on what that means, namely, to cultivate the gentleness and simplicity of the mind.
Next is maunam, which is translated here as “gravity.” Maunam is sometimes translated as silence and we would think that it would be appropriate for the previous verse, which lists austerities of speech. But then we notice something very interesting about the mind. Inside the mind there is always a lot of speaking. Like there is a whole crowd inside our brain and they all are talking with each other, and sometimes even arguing, on and on, endless chatter.
This is calling our attention to a particular tendency of the mind and it raises a question: could it be possible to actually quiet the mind? And if yes, then how?
Back to chapter 6, verse 35 of the Bhagavad-gita. Arjuna has been listening to Krishna telling him about how important it is to control the mind and to Krishna’s advice how to do it. And Krishna has been talking about the perfect yogi and how such a yogi is able to do this, and Arjuna is saying, “Wait Krishna, I am not a yogi, I am a warrior, we are on a battlefield, let’s get real. And all you talk about is controlling the mind. It sounds like I should just as well control the wind!” Krishna is patiently listening to Arjuna. He is sympathetic, He is an empathic communicator. Therefore, when He responds to Arjuna in verse 35, He expresses His understanding for Arjuna’s problem.
mano durnigrahaṁ calam
abhyāsena tu kaunteya
vairāgyeṇa ca gṛhyate
“Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa 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.”
In the first half of the verse He is agreeing with Arjuna. “There is no doubt, the controlling of the mind is difficult.” If Krishna would stop there, Arjuna would say, “Ha, see, I told you, so stop preaching to me to control the mind.” But Krishna doesn’t stop there, He continues saying, “Yes, it is difficult, but it is possible.” He gives two principles: abhyasa and vairagya.
Abhyasa means practice, and it can also be repetition. The essential feature of practice is repetition. But practice by itself is not going to bring big results because the tendency of the mind is to search for satisfaction for the senses in the objects of the senses. So, the counterpart to practice is vairagya, detachment.
These two principles work very well together. Because detachment means that with practice it is possible to let go of things which are unnecessary for us. That doesn’t necessarily mean letting go of physical material things. It means letting go of conceptions or misconceptions, of attachment or ideas of who we are, and so forth. And it can mean letting go of emotions that no longer help us. This is a bigger subject, but the basic idea is that letting go of things we do not need is a natural function. Our physical bodies are doing it all the time. We are taking in food and evacuating what the body no longer needs. Speaking of this process can be a helpful way of understanding how to make our mind our friend.
Let’s look at it in terms of Ayurveda. Only basic points. One of them is that the cause of disease is undigested food, what has become ama or toxic residue in the body. What applies to physical food also applies to thinking. Undigested thought can also become toxic. What would it mean for the mind to have healthy digestion?
Let’s look now at our subtle physiology. There are earth, water, fire, air and ether, and there are mind, intelligence and false ego. The mind is located between the senses and intelligence. That is explained in the 4th chapter. Now we can begin to understand a specific feature of the mind, which is attention. We notice that we can direct our attention in different directions. Basically, we can direct it toward the senses and sense objects, or we can direct it toward intelligence. This recognition as a tool shows our power of choice.
The mind can become empowered by intelligence. If we do that, it takes us to the next step, described in chapter 6 verse 7, which says: “For one who has conquered the mind, the Supersoul is already reached, for he has attained tranquility. To such a man happiness and distress, heat and cold, honor and dishonor are all the same.”
In the last two lines of this text there is the test whether we have been successful in making the mind our friend. We can ask ourselves, “Do I get disturbed by the change of cold and heat? Do I get disturbed in the shifting from happiness to distress? Do I get disturbed when I am being honored or dishonored?”
These are tough questions, because we are easily distressed. But we can also picture a possibility of being not disturbed by these things. However remote this possibility may be, we see it somewhere in the distance. And from there we understand: there is hope!
The Supersoul is above the intelligence. When we listen to the intelligence, “Do I need to be disturbed by this situation?” we are coming very quickly in touch with Paramatma. As devotees we are more interested in Krishna, therefore it is very helpful to remember what Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami says in Caitanya-caritamrita: “For one who remembers Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, that which is very difficult (controlling the mind) becomes very easy. And if one doesn’t remember Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Krishna Himself, that which is very easy to do becomes very difficult.”
The key is remembering Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his instruction to chant the names of the Lord. It brings us back to our main practice, chanting Hare Krishna. This calls us once again to the importance to control our mind as we are chanting the holy name. If we remember that we have the power to direct our attention to Krishna, who is situated in our hearts, then not only are we being mindful, but we also are being heartful.
—From an online lecture by Krishna Kshetra Swami on Bhagavad-gita, chapter 6, October 4th, 2020, ISKCON Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Sadhu Bhavan, Poland