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Q60: In chapter seven, the ‘mind-puzzle’ has been explained. Where do we go from there?
Answer: Those were startling revelations with regard to the behaviour of the mind. But these revelations are the stepping-stones to the understanding of our true nature. Knowing the mind is important, and we should not be discouraged by a mind which behaves like a restless monkey jumping from one branch to another. Our efforts should be to watch and get to know the behaviour of the mind.
Q61: Is it necessary to control the mind?
Answer: Yes, control of mind is necessary if we want it to get Self-knowledge. The Indian scriptures tell us that the cause of our bondage or liberation is the mind. But controlling the mind is difficult, more difficult than subduing the wind.
Q62: How do we control the mind?
Answer: Practice, practice and practice. By practice alone the mind can be trained, mentally befriended and then controlled. Meditation is a valuable practice. There are different methods of meditation. Broadly speaking, there are two categories: concentration meditation and awareness meditation. In concentration meditation, the mind is trained to focus on a single object. By practice, the concentration is made intense. The mind becomes free of unnecessary thoughts and there is calm and serenity. In awareness meditation, the mind is trained simply to observe the thoughts arising in the mind without commenting on them: good or bad or any other adjective. Simple observation permits awareness without thought. The mind becomes still. We may choose any one of the various methods according to our mental disposition. In the beginning they may be difficult to practice. But with effort and sincerity of purpose they become enjoyable. One such technique of mindfulness of breathing is described below.
Sit cross-legged or in any comfortable sitting position, such as in a chair with your feet resting on the ground, or on a cushion on the ground. Place your palms on your knees. Close the eyes. Breathe normally. On completion of first inhalation and exhalation, mentally count ‘one’. This is one breath. On completion of next inhalation and exhalation, mentally count ‘two’. Continue this until you have counted up to ‘twelve’. Now do the reverse process. Inhale and exhale, mentally count ‘twelve’. Again inhale and exhale, mentally count ‘eleven’. In this way, count back down to ‘one’. This is one complete cycle. In one cycle you have completed twenty-four breaths and you are simply becoming aware of breathing i.e. mindfulness of breathing. During counting, if there is any break because the mind has wavered, then re-start the count from one. After one cycle open the eyes and reflect whether the mindfulness was continuous or intermittent.
After practicing the above mindfulness of breathing for about a week, the number of cycles can be gradually increased to two, four, six up to twelve so as to complete twelve cycles in one session by the end of two months. Whenever continuous focusing is not possible, open the eyes and reflect. Restart after a break of five seconds. The duration of one session consisting of twelve cycles may vary from eight to twelve minutes depending upon the duration of one individual breath. It should be understood that it is the quality which matters. Five minutes of quality meditation is more rewarding than twenty minutes of intermittent meditation. There is one important aspect: counting from one to twelve, or twelve to one should not become mechanical, i.e., without realizing that the count actually relates to the breath number.
Q63: What should be done when an extraneous thought comes in the mind during meditation?
Answer: While doing meditation if an extraneous thought comes, it should then be treated as an unwelcome and untimely guest. Since a guest should not be ill treated, it should be allowed to pass like the sound of a vehicle passing by on the roadside. Try to befriend the mind and persuade it to remain focused in the present i.e. on the breath. This task should be done in a very gentle manner so that the mind remains calm throughout. We should use our intellect to control and guide the mind.
Q64: When can we say that a particular session of meditation is successful?
Answer: A meditation session should not be judged in terms of success or failure. It may happen that one session is very refreshing while another is not so. It is a normal feature and need not cause any worry. The important thing is sincerity and truthfulness in the practice. Keep practicing sincerely without concerning about failure. In the beginning sitting continuously for ten minutes will be boring. But with resolve this can be overcome. When, despite the effort, we are unable to focus, open the eyes. Reflect upon the feeling and the accompanying thoughts. Then restart. The first indication of useful meditation is that after meditating for ten minutes there is an urge to prolong the session.
Q65: Can mindfulness be done while doing our daily chores?
Answer: A very practical question. To be sure, it could be the way of life. An example is to remain mindful while brushing the teeth. It is quite simple as explained here. Two minutes are spent on brushing the teeth. It can as well be used for mindfulness. For this, try to give full attention to the various steps like opening the toothpaste tube, taking the brush in the hand, applying the paste to the brush, brushing the teeth, whether brushing gently or roughly. This way not only we will enjoy the brushing but also cultivate mindfulness. This will help in formal meditation also. “By practicing giving your attention to what is being done at any moment, and just watching what happens, it is possible to appreciate this non-involvement or witness status of yourself.” [Dennis Waite: The Book of One]
One more informal method can also be practiced whenever there is free time for 2 to 3 minutes:-; say after lunch or after watching a TV programme. Be relaxed, either in the bed or chair. We may stretch the legs, if it makes us more comfortable. While sitting on the sofa, we may rest the legs on the centre table. Rest the head against the back of the bed or chair. Start breathing normally. While inhaling or exhaling, the air touches an inner portion of the nostril accompanied by a soothing sensation. Try to be aware, preferably without thinking, of this soothing sensation. Enjoy the sensation. 2 to 3 minutes of awareness and enjoyment is sufficient. As we start enjoying the soothing sensation, we may repeat it whenever there is nothing else to do. Such mindfulness can be done during other daily chores, e.g., taking showers, cutting fruits etc.
Q66: Is there a relationship between thought and breath?
Answer: Yes, there is intimacy between thought and breath. It is a common experience that when we are excited or agitated, the breathing is not normal. The more the breath is slow; the greater is our control over the emotions and other thoughts. It seems that the area of brain which controls the respiratory system is also related to thinking. Breathing is a medium between mind and body. It is an important link in the supply-chain of blood to the brain.
Q67: Why is the state of no-thought important?
Answer: We are prone to compulsive thinking. There is always noise in the mind, making it cluttered. The more the mind is free of thought, the closer are we to our true nature. It is important to note that in the state of no-thought, we are fully alert and aware. There is self-awareness.
Q68: How do we do it?
Answer: Gently close the eyes and try to drop all thoughts and emotions from the mind. The effort should be gentle without force. It can be done by simply observing the thoughts. Do not give any importance to the thoughts and they will gradually recede. Though the mind is relatively empty of everything, we are still aware (conscious). Gradually we become self-aware, i.e., aware of being aware. It is difficult to empty the mind, yet we can, by practice, eventually accomplish this for short periods. This can completely change our life. There are gaps between thoughts which pass unobserved. They are the openings leading to the Self. The difficulty is to catch hold of them. In thoughtless state we regain our true nature. “There is an unknown and unnoticed gap between every two thoughts, every two breaths, wherein man pauses momentarily for the flimsiest fraction of a second. During that pause, which flashes by with such immeasurable rapidity, he returns to his primal self and rests anew in his real being.”[ Paul Brunton: The Secret Path]
Q69: Is human life a boon or a bane?
Answer: Human life is a boon. It is not an end in itself. Self-knowledge can only be gained by a human mind.
Q70: What is the purpose of life?
Answer: Life is a relative truth; at the same time it is the launching pad for reaching the higher and the highest truth.
Q71: What is this highest truth?
Answer: Satchidananda. This was explained at Q 57 in chapter nine. Indian scriptures prescribe four paths, namely, Path of Knowledge (Jnanyoga); Path of Action (Karmayoga); Path of Devotion (Bhaktiyoga) and Path of Psychic Powers (Rajayoga). In the final analysis, the three later paths also lead to Jnan (knowledge). The book deals mainly with Path of Knowledge. This is not mere a philosophy but a deep insight into the factum of life and beyond. It is appropriately called a darshan (Seeing). There is apparently no equivalent word of it in English.
Q72: How should a seeker begin? Should he or she believe in what is written in the book?
Answer: A seeker need not directly believe in what is written. However, an amount of provisional trust is definitely required in the beginning as would be the case in any path of learning. The main pre-requisites on this path are patience, perseverance and open-mindedness.
Q73: How much time does it take to realize the Truth?
Answer: There is no fixed time chart. Each person is different.