Friday, March 4, 2011

The Purified Mind Is Like the Clear Waters of a Placid Lake

Perhaps the most influential book that I've read in my life (in a three-way "photo finish" tie with Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now" and Eric Butterworth's "Discover the Power Within You") is "How To Know God" - a translation and commentary on Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms by Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda, a founder of the Vedanta Society of Southern California. (My first teacher called it his "Book of Soul Realization.")

Yoga (or, the practice of reuniting our consciousness with the deeper consciousness of the Godhead), it explains, is "the control of thought-waves in the mind." The methodologies of all the branches of Yoga, even the now-popular hatha yoga, are ultimately aimed at achieving this reunion.

"The mind seems to be intelligent and conscious," Isherwood and Prabhavananda note. And, yet, "Yoga philosophy teaches that it is not." Our ordinary mind - self-consciousness, or the "ego" - in fact, "borrows" its seeming consciousness and intelligence from the Godhead within us, from the Atman.

In a powerful image, Isherwood and Prabhavananda explain how the true nature of the mind (the Atman) is obscured by our habitual ideas and patterns of thought (the samskaras, or 'sheaths' that obscure the Atman) and how spiritual practice and meditation clarifies the mind and reunites it with the Godhead within each of us. They, as many traditionalist teachers before them have done, compare the mind to a lake.
"If the surface of a lake is lashed into waves, the water becomes muddy and the bottom cannot be seen. The lake represents the mind and the bottom of the lake represents the Atman.

When Patanjali speaks of "control of thought-waves," he does not refer to a momentary or superficial control. . . . We have to do something much more difficult - to unlearn the identification of the thought-waves with the ego-sense. This process of unlearning involves a complete transformation of character, a "renewal of the mind," as St. Paul puts it.
 . . . Waves do not merely disturb the surface of the water, they also, by their continued action, build up banks of sand or pebbles on the lake bottom. Such sandbanks are, of course, much more permanent and solid than the waves themselves. They may be compared to the tendencies, potentialities and latent states that exist in the conscious and unconscious areas of the mind. In Sanskrit, they are called samskaras. The samskaras are built up by the continued actions of the thought-waves, and they, in their turn, create new thought-waves - the process works both ways. . . . The sum total of our samskaras is, in fact, our character - at any given time. Let us never forget, however, that, just as a sandbank may shift and change its shape if the tide or the current changes, so also the samskaras may be modified by the introduction of other kinds of thought-waves into the mind."
Sri Satchidananda
As another commentator, Sri Swami Satchidananda, notes in his commentary on Patanjali ("The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali"), all the rest of Patanjali's aphorisms are merely a riff on how and by what methods we become able to control the thought-waves of the mind, as well as the results that such discipline brings to us - moksha, liberation, or as it is known in the West, enlightenment.

"The yoga aspirant does not waste his time wondering where his samskaras come from or how long he has had them; he accepts full responsibility for them and sets about trying to change them."
       - Isherwood and Prabhavananda, page 21.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your blog represents an accomplished work of love. I see you've even worked in my beloved Tahiti . . . The Spiritual Hammer