How to control the mind
Snakes and wicked men are certainly dangerous, but of the two, a wicked man is more dangerous than a poisonous snake. A snake can be controlled by mantras and herbs, but how can an evil man be controlled?
All schools of yoga emphasize the importance of controlling the mind. This is because according to the Vedic sages the state of our mind determines the quality of our life. Our present state of existence is a result of our mind’s condition in our previous lives. Our future situation depends on the way we train our mind now. Therefore in the ancient yoga texts it is said that the controlled mind is our best friend and the uncontrolled mind is our worst enemy.
This is true in both the material and spiritual sphere. Whether we want to attain material or spiritual success (or both), we have to undergo strict discipline of controlling our mind and senses. All successful people know this and act accordingly. The story of the hapless loser, who became rich and famous and got the best looking girl around without any endeavor on his part, can make it for a block-buster movie, but this type of stories do not happen in real life. In reality any success in any area of life has a price one has to pay.
Our ability to pay that price depends solely on the degree we control our mind and our aptitude to keep it focused on one goal. The most celebrated yoga text, the Bhagavad-gita states: “Those who are on this path are resolute in purpose, and their aim is one. The intelligence of those who are irresolute is many-branched.”* In our contemporary world there are endless distractions which render us all irresolute in our purpose in life. In fact distractions in the form of aimless internet browsing, pornography, computer games, following sports, celebrity gossip, TV series, etc are major industries which earn colossal profits feeding on our inability to discipline our mind. For the majority of the people of our age being distracted (meaning to let your mind free to wander wherever it pleases him without any restriction) is the sum and substance of having a good time. This is what people are looking forward to during their tedious long hours in the office where they are forced to focus on a particular job. The French thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau captures this fascination with the idle, distracted mind function in the following excerpts of a letter he wrote at age fifty-five:
I love to dream, but freely allowing my mind to wander without enslaving myself to any subject…this idle and contemplative life…becomes to me daily more delicious; to wander alone endlessly and ceaselessly among the trees and rocks about my dwelling, to muse or rather to be as irresponsible as I please…finally to give myself up unconstrainedly to my fantasies…that, sir, is for me the supreme enjoyment…
To decide to live in a dream world in this sense means to redefine and recreate reality according to one’s desire. In other words it means to become God who controls and enjoys his own Universe. Suhotra Swami describes this in his book “Dimensions of Good and Evil”:
The traditional religious view is that the world was shaped by laws independent from my self. To satisfy my desires in relation to the world, I am obliged to conform to the laws that govern the world, or suffer consequences. This is essentially the Vedic teaching—for every act of desire in relation to matter, a karmic debt must be paid or suffering will follow. The new model, however, takes the universe to be the subject, not the object. The universe is no different from the self who perceives it. All is one. Each human being becomes the divine incarnation of solipsism (the philosophical theory that the self is the only reality).
Human desire shall no longer feast on “objects”—since there are no objects, only the self—but on imagination: the imagination that I am God and the world is my creation. If I am not satisfied with my world, I can simply re-create it at will and do whatever I like in it, as do the tantric goddesses. Living out this new model of reality, one participates in a monstrous vision of everyone and everything as fragile images that have no other function than to serve the all-consuming desire of a psychopathic god—my own self. This is a god of the moment, not of eternity; a god that lives for the next opportunity of selfish gratification, not for the benefit of others; a god that welcomes death as a respite from the infinite tedium of solipsistic existence.
Of course, nowadays people have powerful tools to help them casually distract their minds; the foremost of them is the internet. However, according to the great authority in yoga Patanjali, this restless state of mind is in fact an obstacle for having a happy life. It brings only mental agitation and frustration without offering anything tangible in return. The way to real happiness, argues Patanjali, is to bring the mind to the stage of being one-pointed (ekagra) and well-controlled (niruddha). Only then real peace of mind and happiness are possible. Peace and happiness are deeply connected as shown in the Bhagavad-gita, açäntasya kutaù sukham, how can there be any happiness without peace?
Therefore one should be bold enough to say “no” to all countless promising opportunities for effortless amusement by distraction. As we already learned, time is something very valuable and it should not be wasted for frivolous activities. But how to control the mind?
This is not an easy task. In the ancient yoga texts the attempt to control the mind is compared to trying to stop the wind with bare hands. Declaring a war to the mind is a risky business since the unbridled mind is known as “the crest jewel among all warriors.” Still, in order to attain any type of success in life we have no other choice but to try to conquer the uncontrolled mind.
There are different methods for attaining this goal. Some sages suggest that one should study analytically the nature of the material world and its components. The main reason why we fail in our attempts at self-control is because our untrained mind is spontaneously attracted to matter which it views as pleasing and enjoyable. By scrutinizing the factual character of the material creation and by analyzing one by one all of its elements we can break down our attachment to it and attain liberation. This, in a nutshell, is the philosophy of one the orthodox Vedic schools of thought – Sankhya.
According to another such school – Nyaya, control of the mind can be attained by mastering the proper methods of reasoning. Proper reasoning brings about perfect knowledge about everything which results in liberation from all suffering.
All well and good, the noble desire for liberation should be always encouraged. Still, one can detect that the methods proposed by the schools of Sankhya and Nyaya are not likely to attract many followers in our age because they are very dry and rigid.
The sage Patanjali we mentioned earlier has proposed another method for controlling the mind called Yoga. This is how the practice of yoga is described in the Bhagavad-gita:
A yogi should always engage his body, mind and self in relationship with the Supreme; he should live alone in a secluded place and should always carefully control his mind. He should be free from desires and feelings of possessiveness.To practice yoga, one should go to a secluded place and should lay kuça grass on the ground and then cover it with a deerskin and a soft cloth. The seat should be neither too high nor too low and should be situated in a sacred place. The yogé should then sit on it very firmly and practice yoga to purify the heart by controlling his mind, senses and activities and fixing the mind on one point. One should hold one’s body, neck and head erect in a straight line and stare steadily at the tip of the nose. Thus, with an unagitated, subdued mind, devoid of fear, completely free from sex life, one should meditate upon Me within the heart and make Me the ultimate goal of life.Thus practicing constant control of the body, mind and activities, the mystic yogi, his mind regulated, attains to the kingdom of God by cessation of material existence. (Bhagavad-gita 6.10-15)
This method for control of the mind obviously does not offer an easier solution compared to Sankhya and Nyaya. Even the first requirement for a serious yoga practice – leaving home – will prove insuperable for most people today, including the yoga fans.
Fortunately, according to the Vedas, there is another, much easier way to control the mind. It is called mantra meditation. The word mantra comes from “manas” (mind) and “trayate” (to deliver). The meaning is to deliver the mind from anxieties of mundane existence.
The mantras are transcendental sound vibrations. They are meant to help us in our quest for self-realization especially in our age of quarrel and hypocrisy (Kali Yuga) when we are not qualified to follow other authorized methods.
There are different mantras mentioned in the scriptures but the most powerful one for our times is the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna KrishnaKrishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama RamaRama Hare Hare”.
The Hare Krishna maha-mantra is abundantly praised in the Vedic literature. For example in Srimad Bhagavatam it is stated:
In the Age of Kali there are many faults, for people are subjected to many miserable conditions, yet in this age there is one great benediction—simply by chanting the Hare Kåñëa mantra one can be freed from all material contamination and thus be elevated to the spiritual world.**
The Närada Païcarätra also extols the Hare Kåñëa mahä-mantra as follows:
“The essence of all Vedic knowledge…is included in the eight syllables Hare Kåñëa, Hare Kåñëa. This is the essence of all Vedänta. The chanting of the holy name is the only means to cross the ocean of nescience.”
Similarly, the Kali-santaraëa Upaniñad states,
“Hare Kåñëa, Hare Kåñëa, KåñëaKåñëa, Hare Hare/ Hare Räma, Hare Räma, RämaRäma, Hare Hare—these sixteen names composed of thirty-two syllables are the only means to counteract the evil effects of Kali-yuga. In all the Vedas it is seen that to cross the ocean of nescience there is no alternative to the chanting of the holy name.”
The mantras, and especially the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, purify our mind from all the material contamination in the form of envy, egoism, illusion, madness, lust, greed, malice, etc. The presence of such vices is the reason why it is so hard to control the mind. The miraculous purifying effect of the mantras is due to the absolute nature of God. The mantras are composed by God’s holly names which are non-different from Him. By chanting the mantras one is in direct contact with God and thus becomes purified from all dirty things. Once cleansed by all impurities the mind becomes easy and natural to control. Therefore in the Vedas it is stated:
In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy the only means of deliverance is chanting the holy name of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way.***
Of course, the ultimate goal of chanting Hare Krishna maha-mantra (or for that matter any Vedic mantra) goes much deeper than simply pacifying the mind; its ultimate goal is to change our false identity of a God’s competitor to our natural position of God’s loving servant. Without this shift of identity the development of good qualities and good character is not really possible. One cannot be truly a moral person without acknowledging the origin of all moral and ethics. People who are ignorant of God cannot possibly possess good qualities; they can, at best, own only a shadow of virtue. As R.D. Lang writes in his book “The Politics of Experience”,
True sanity entails, in one way or another, the dissolution of the normal ego, that false self completely adjusted to our alienated social reality; the emergence of the “inner” archetypal mediators of divine power, and through death a rebirth, and the eventual reestablishment of a new kind of ego-functioning, the ego now being a servant of the divine, no longer its betrayer.
* Bhagavad-gita 2.41
** Srimad Bhagavatam 12.3.51
*** Brihan Naradiya Purana