Volume VII - In an Eastern Rose Garden
STILLING THE MIND
Before one can understand the use of stilling the mind one must consider the discrepancy between advising that the mind be stilled and advising that the body be not stilled. Life is nothing but an activity in all things. Inactivity of the body takes away its vigor and strength; the muscles do not have a chance to develop; the lazy, inactive person is always suffering from indigestion or some such ailment. How then can it be that when the mind is made still it will not suffer loss of vigor and strength? Would not stilling the mind stupefy a person? If the voice is to develop, it must be used in singing exercises and in carrying out certain practices; if the muscles are to develop, they must be used. How then can stilling the mind create power of mind?
There is great truth in this objection. Stilling the mind would stupefy and render it powerless, did the person not understand life's secret, life's law. It is true that in life on the physical plane our exercises and activity of the day must give place to rest, comfort, and sleep during the night. If our body does not receive that rest, it can never flourish. We need more rest than activity; we need more comfort than toil; and if we do not get it our health becomes unbalanced. So it follows that just as it is necessary for the body to have comfort and rest after toil, so is it necessary for the mind to have rest and peace after thinking and working.
Indeed, the mind is composed of finer elements, whereas the body is made of grosser elements, and that makes a great difference in activity. The higher the plane of existence, the more active one is; the lower the plane, the less are the activities. That is why the mind is naturally more active than the body. Therefore, if after toil rest is necessary, how much more does this apply to mind than to body! We usually rest our body at will whenever circumstances allow us to; we recline on a couch or in an armchair after coming back from the office or work and at night we rest and go to sleep; but when do we give the mind a rest? Rest for the mind is as necessary as rest for the body, and yet we always keep the mind in action. It is constantly at work even if our body is resting. Even if the body is sleeping, the mind is producing dreams, and is constantly at work. Many people stand at their work the whole day, during which the mind is no less busy with the work on the physical planes than is the body, for mind works with body; and yet they work with the mind the whole night long. The body is having rest and comfort, but not the mind. Even in an armchair they are still imagining, still working with the mind.
The mind has no leisure; it is perhaps worrying, or planning, or thinking over the struggles and anxieties of which life is so full. There is hardly ever a time when the mind is at rest, except when nature gives it a rest because it is too exhausted to work any more. The mind says, 'I will have a good sleep.' And if it has two hours' sleep only, still one wakes up with such joy and strength that all the world seems new. If there have been dreams, one can only say that one has been asleep, but one does not feel rested, because that part of the being has not had any rest.
All this shows the great practical need for the mind to be at rest, for the mind to be stilled. Those who make it a principle that work is always an advisable thing are one-sided. Balance lies in perceiving that work and rest are equally necessary for good health, both physical and mental.
The work of the body is sometimes kept under a man's control, but he does not keep the work of the mind under his control. This is not because he cannot do so; it is because he never thinks about it. Does one ever stop to ask oneself, 'Why was I thinking? Was there any purpose in those anxious, worried thoughts? Was it not that the mind was just allowed to go wherever it wanted? While sitting quietly in a chair, were not the thoughts active with things that have nothing to do with my life, with things that do not matter in the least either to myself or to anyone else? It was just a waste of energy.'
The more the mind is allowed to go on without purpose, the more likely it is to become a vehicle or machine which all manner of influences around it of other human beings or spirit obsessions will employ instead of its owner. If the user of that mind is a sensible person, then it may perhaps act properly, but otherwise the work of the mind is wasted. In any case it would not be a fulfillment of the purpose of his life. This purpose is to learn mastery, not to be a vehicle for others to use. He who does not direct his own mind lacks mastery.
All this shows that the very first lesson that the mystic learns in life is the training of mind. It is not stilling the mind; stilling comes afterwards. The first thing is to train, to check the activities. This is illustrated in the words 'imagination' and 'thought.' Sometimes we use the word thought when we should use the word imagination; sometimes imagination when we should use thought. Both are different forms of activity of mind. In the first case the imagination, the activity of mind, is uncontrolled, without our intention, and is not directed towards a certain purpose. A person may be imaginative, and his imaginings may appear like beautiful flowers. But if there is no purpose, the flowers are of no use to the plant; that beautiful things have been produced is no credit, because no one knows from what source the imaginings have come. But in the case of thought, this is directed imagination; it is a controlled activity of mind. That is why we cannot call a thoughtful person imaginative, nor can we call an imaginative person thoughtful. He is thoughtful whose mind is directed by his will, whose mind fulfills his intentions, whose mind is under the control of his intention.
Imagination may be very beautiful or just the opposite; it may be right or it may be wrong. Many people who are praised as being imaginative may really be in the first stage of insanity. Only those who have controlled the activity of their minds have given deep thoughts to the world. Those whose minds are working mechanically like a machine, or just reflecting the activity of those around them, may appear to be living beings, but the mystic would say differently; for it is not till a person has gained mastery over his mind, till he is above this activity, that he is a ruling power, a true person.
When we think about it, we find that all the things that are accomplished in this world are accomplished by the power of mind. As it is written in the Vedanta, 'The world is the creation of the mind of Brahma.' That is, it is the thought of the Creator, which has created the world. And if it is the Creator's thought that has created this world, then we ourselves are not far from Him. The soul of man is the spirit of the Creator, and therefore has within it the same power of creating by the power of mind as his Creator has. Whatever man creates in science, in art, in phenomena or wonder-making, in poetry, in music, in pictures, in everything that he brings into being, is all achieved by the power of mind.
What is man? Is not his soul divine substance? The very word man is from the Sanskrit Manu, which means mind. Man is what his mind is, what he thinks. 'As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is.' Even the future, as well as the past, is what he thinks, because he himself becomes the image of his thoughts. God created man in the image of his thoughts. If there is any self of which one can say, 'This is man', it is the mind. The three Sanskrit words Mana, Manu, Manushya show that man is his mind, is the product of his mind, and is also the controller of the activity of mind. If he does not control his mind, he is not a master but a slave. It lies with his own mind whether he shall be master, or whether he shall be slave. He is slave when he neglects to be master; he is master if he cares to be master.
Mastery lies not merely in stilling the mind, but in directing it towards whatever point we desire, in allowing it to be active as far as we wish, in using it to fulfill our purpose, in causing it to be still when we want to still it. He who has come to this has created his heaven within himself; he has no need to wait for a heaven in the hereafter, for he has produced it within his own mind now.
There is a story of a murshid and a mureed. The mureed said, 'O, Teacher, I should like to see heaven.' The teacher said, 'Yes, this is the way you should meditate in order to see heaven.' So the mureed went and did so; but the vision of heaven which he had was not as described in the scriptures, a place where one enjoys nothing but comfort and luxury, milk and honey, marble halls and white robes, beautiful gems and jewels, garlands of flowers, and the waving of palms. He could not see any of these, and he asked himself, 'Has the murshid perhaps shown me a wrong heaven, or have the prophets given a wrong message in the scriptures?'
So he went back to his teacher saying, 'Now I should like to see hell.' The murshid said, 'Yes, this is the way you should meditate in order to see hell.' And then the mureed did this, and he saw in a trance that there was certainly such a place, but there was no fire or snakes or serpents or thorns or tortures or imps or flames such as have been described to people throughout the ages. So he could not understand whether his vision was right or wrong; and he went back to the teacher, and said, 'I have seen in this way: I have not seen in heaven the things that are promised, nor have I seen in hell the things which are foretold as being there.' 'O,' the teacher said, 'all the things promised for the hereafter you will have to take there from here. They are not kept ready for you; you will have to bring them with you. If you take sorrows with you, you will find them there; if you take hatred, you will find it there. Your mind is like a gramophone record, and if you use a harsh voice, the instrument produces a harsh note; if beautiful words and tones, it will sing beautiful words and tones. It will produce the same record that you have experienced in life. Indeed you have not to wait till after death in order to experience it; you are experiencing it even now.' 1
Everything is reproduced before us now, if we would only listen to it and perceive it. Every good or bad word or deed is reproduced before us, though it seems as in a dream.
If we watched life keenly, we should see how true this is. Joy, sorrow, love, all depend on our thought, on the activity of our mind. If we are depressed, if we are in despair, it is still the work of our mind; our mind has prepared that for us. If we are joyful and happy, and all things are pleasant, that also has been prepared for us by our mind. It is only when our mind works without control that unhappiness, sorrow, trouble, pain, or whatever we experience comes without our intention. No one could wish to create hell for himself; all would create heaven for themselves if they could; and yet how many allow their minds to create these things for them, regardless of their own intention.
The control of the activity of mind is called concentration in the language of the mystics. The meaning of this word is often not rightly understood. People are apt to think that concentration means only closing the eyes. But one may close one's eyes for hours, and still the thoughts keep coming like a moving picture. People are never at rest, never at peace; anxiety and sorrow do not disappear just because they close their eyes. It is concentration that does that. Concentration is activity of mind in the direction desired; our desire dictates in which way the mind is to be active; the mind acts according to our wishes.
How difficult it is to do this, is best known by those who have tried. As soon as the mind is still and inactive it begins to jump and run away from control. It runs in every direction but in that which we wish. We hold it; it slips away. Not till one begins to try and concentrate does one see how uncontrollable and unruly the mind is.
This truth is pictured very well in the story from Ramayana, the great Hindu scripture, which tells about Rama's two children Lahu and Kusha. The myth explains the condition of the human mind as being like that of an unruly horse. Is it not always running hither and thither; is it not like a wild horse running from place to place, farther away every time we think we are able to touch it? When a person says to himself, 'I will not think of anything', do not a thousand thoughts come? That shows that its nature is like that of the unruly horse, which needs skill to control it.
The key to the problem of controlling the mind, the key to concentration, is given to us by our elder brother, the murshid among the Sufis, the guru among the Hindus, who is a teacher with experience of the horse, having trained it and mastered it. He says, 'If you are without the right friend, you will perhaps succeed in catching the horse, and perhaps you will not. But if you know the right way in which to go about catching it, you will not be long in doing so.' That is why it is so necessary to have a method of concentration. Mystics, yogis, faqirs, ascetics, have a method; and by learning that method, the concentration is easily obtained. When the mind is controlled and made into a vehicle, absolutely in our hand, working as we desire, then we can still it also.
The benefit of stilling is even greater. If one only grasped the benefit of perfect stillness, even of only the body! We see a symbol of that stillness in the statues of Buddha, or of Krishna, or in other idols. What an effect that has! Compare it with the effect of a person who comes into our presence and is always active, rubbing his hands, moving about, raising his shoulders, making grimaces, tapping on the table, scratching, fidgeting in some way or another. Does he not make us fidget too? The whole atmosphere becomes disturbed. Why? Because there is an intense activity of mind having its effect on the body. The body and mind are both in an unrestful state, which affects everyone present, for it produces unrest in the whole atmosphere. We may not be conscious that this is so, but unconsciously we feel disturbed.
The great comfort that one finds after waking from a deep sleep cannot be compared with anything in the world; but more than that, the mystic sees in sleep the symbol of a great mystical state. Rumi, the Sufi teacher of Persia, says, 'O sleep, in thee I find the divine bliss. Thou makest patients forget their illness; thou makest kings forget for the moment that they are in a palace; thou makest the prisoners forget for a moment that they are in captivity. What bliss, what joy of bliss when the soul is freed from these limitations, from the presence of the different aspects of life that are keeping it captive!'
Sleep is the time when the soul is free. That is why deep sleep is so important a state to the mystic. In the East they say: when a person is asleep do not wake him; it is a great sin to do so. Of course in the West they cannot say this, because if he does not go to his work in the morning, what then? It would be a great sin if we did not wake him.
As there is such comfort and joy and so great a secret of heavenly peace during sound sleep, so there is a greater joy and peace and inspiration when the mind is stilled. The mind is so like water that our poets always call it the sea, the ocean. The nature of water is that as we look into it we see a face reflected there, our own image. If the water is not still, the face is not clear; when the water is still everything reflected in it is clear. So it is with the mind. When the mind is stilled it hears what another person says, it can ponder upon anything that it sees; and when one is sufficiently developed the mind can hear even what is said from the other side; even what God says from heaven.
Therefore it is those who have first accomplished stillness in their life who have enabled the ears of their heart to listen to the Word of God. And what an atmosphere such persons can produce. What effect their presence has! It is more than healing, more than medicine. A man with a perfectly stilled, comforted, and rested mind will at once raise up another who is going through distress, or restlessness, or pain, or ill-temper, or worry, or anxiety. The very presence of one whose mind is stilled gives such hope, such inspiration, such sympathy, such power and life. All the heavenly properties flow so smoothly and freely from the person whose mind is stilled that his words, his voice, his presence, all react upon the mind of others; and as he stills his mind, so his very presence becomes healing.
1 - There is a similar heaven and hell story in Rumi's Mathnawi II 2554-2568.