Someone has said that the mind is a machine for secreting thought, and this description corresponds to our experience of it. The secret of the practice of interior silence is that if the secretion of thought is stopped, not permanently, but for short periods, the mind secretes not thought, but something exceedingly pure, subtle and brilliant, something which in the mystical traditions is frequently referred to by the word ‘light.’ This is not the metaphorical light of the intellect or the understanding. It is of the nature of very subtle, fine energy, which is clearly perceptible to the controlled and silenced mind. It is sometimes known also as ‘spirit.’
The discovery of this interior light is so vast a step in the practice of Yoga that it is worth examining in detail all the stages which lead up to it, and also considering some of the typical experiences a practicant of interior silence may have.
Dr Shastri continually exhorted his pupils to live consciously.
One aspect of conscious living and possibly its most intimate and personal aspect is to be aware of one’s own thoughts. It takes some time and effort before one can be even semi-permanently aware of all the movements of one’s mind. So a practice preparatory to that of interior silence is simply to watch the mind for a short period, say, five minutes, simply ‘taking note of’ what is going on in it, that is, the thoughts which come and go. If this is regularly done even for a short time, the ability to watch one’s thoughts will grow gradually.
This practice has many stages.
At the first and most elementary the person is only aware of what he was thinking about after he has done what he was thinking about. At a later stage he is aware of what he is thinking about at the same time as he is actually executing it. At a still later stage he is aware of the thought before the corresponding activity has started; and later still he becomes aware of the thought long before it even approaches the stage of actualization.
This separation of thought from its corresponding activity helps the practice of self-control, and a man who has attained some degree of self-control is not, for example, in great danger of losing his temper easily, or of taking advantage of someone’s inexperience; the man of self-control by virtue of the mere fact of his ability to separate thought from its actualization has gone some way towards the practice of interior silence.
But there is a stage beyond that of self-control, with the clear division which it implies between thought and activity, and that is the stage at which the very springs of desire are located, identified, brought into focus and watched.
Again and again Dr Shastri warned us against an asceticism which totally eradicated in us all the springs of desire. There are spiritual traditions which have inculcated that any spiritual achievement is impossible so long as the least trace of desire remains. This was not Dr Shastri’s teaching. To remove all desires, even if it were possible, which it surely hardly is, is to remove the sources of energy and creativity in the personality, and it is in a way to neutralize, and even to nullify, the personality.
The springs of desire are not to be dammed or blasted: their nature is to be understood, and then they are to be watched and controlled, and their energies directed into useful and wholesome channels. Far from harming meditation or indeed proving inimical to the spiritual life, desire can be a most potent friend, and the man who has strong desires which he can control and harness to his spiritual purposes is fortunate.
We have all at some time or other walked over a boggy or slightly swampy patch of ground. There can be such patches in Richmond Park or even in so carefully cultivated an area as Kensington Gardens. We discover that we are in such an area by the squelching sound around our shoes, and as we gaze down, we see that the grass is greener and more luxuriant than elsewhere. Unless we have galoshes on, we shall want to leave the area as quickly as possible; but if we were gardeners or ecologists, we might stay and study it carefully. If we did so, we would find small springs hidden in the grass, given away by little trickles, which diffuse their water through the roots of the grass, increasing its growth.
So with the mind. A stage comes when we are able to locate in it little pockets of as it were congealed desires, little vibrating centres, which generate certain types of thought, and, when stimulated by certain sensory contacts through the eyes or the ears, become much more active. The location of these little bundles in the mind (called vasanas) is a great advance towards the practice of interior silence.
The mind has sometimes been compared to a crowd of rioting, shouting persons. To locate these bundles of desires in our minds is comparable to locating the chief trouble-makers in a crowd. Once these are known and identified, the whole crowd is much easier to control.
The control of the mind resembles the control of a crowd also in another way. Dr Shastri always advised: “Do not use force on the mind.”
Treat it gently, firmly, but avoid contests with it. The creation of good habits and humour are two watchwords in mind control.
There is one further point, which is made in the Tao Teh King, a manual for good government and also for the interior life. In it Lao Tzu advised that difficulties should be dealt with when they are still small: they should not be left till they have grown strong and deep-rooted. It is the same with the mind: mental disturbances and all manner of attachments can be dealt with easily enough when they are newly arisen. Dr Shastri used to say that one could not leave one’s mind alone to its own devices for more than a few minutes without danger or risking future difficulties.
Let us sum up these three stages so far described: first, simply watching the mind for a few minutes at a time, not attempting to select or reject thoughts, but just becoming aware of their appearance and disappearance.
Second, the stage of self-control. The thoughts of all kinds are observed, but their expression in action is monitored: only certain actions are done, other are rejected. The perfection of this practice is reached when the nature and results of the actualization of one’s thoughts are apprehended long before they near actualization.
Third, the identification in our minds of the bundles of desires, the trouble-makers in our personality. Merely to know one’s desires is an immense help in the practice of interior silence.
All of us are fortunate enough to know orderly, balanced, harmonious personalities. These people have attained these three stages, but theirs is not yet a mystical stage.
What follows now is an entry into the mystical world, rich in subtle and beautiful experiences, which gradually strengthen and transform the mind, enabling it to bear yet more advanced experiences.
To enter into this world it is necessary to learn a completely new activity, which is to direct the attention backwards to its own source, to the very roots of the mind. At first this may be difficult, but it becomes easier with practice.
Initially the attention may seem to be directed to mere blankness and blackness, but this will not be for long. As the backwards directed attention gathers strength and continuity, ceasing to waver, and focusing itself into a steady beam, flashes of a cool, soft light begin to emerge out of the blackness, and this light gradually begins to fill the mind. Dr Shastri wrote that the yogi who has attained this condition goes to his meditation as to a bath, expecting to be submitted to a refreshing, purifying, invigorating stream. When the preliminaries for this practice have become habitual and easy, all the yogi has to do is as it were to bow mentally to this light for it to flood into his mind.
The whole of this practice can be summed up in one sentence: silence the mind and seek its source.
This practice culminates in what is called self-realization, which is best described by people who have had the experience. This article therefore ends with a passage written by a self- realized yogi, Swami Rama Tirtha, a close friend of our own teacher, Dr Shastri, but before quoting it there are one or two terms to be explained.
The light which has been described is an aspect of what the yogis call the Self or in Sanskrit Atman, which is regarded as the ultimate reality from which the worlds have come forth and to which they return. The Self is the basis of body and mind, but it is most easily known as being at the root of the mind, and that is why, when the attention is directed at the root of the mind, light from the Self is perceived in the mind. Self-realization is the knowledge of the infinite Self; the backwards directed attention is devoured by the infinite Self, or as Swami Rama Tirtha says the bubble bursts and merges in the ocean. It should be stressed that this merging is possible only because the merging entity and that into which it merges are the same in essence. Here is this passage, which comes from Swami Rama Tirtha’s Informal Talks:
While the intellect cannot grasp the Atman, it can get itself merged in the Atman, like the bubbles in the ocean. The bubbles cannot come out of the ocean, but they can burst and become merged in it. So the intellect cannot comprehend the Atman, but it can lose itself in the Atman, and this is in fact the sum and substance of Maya. The intellect cannot ask the Atman or God : ‘Why, when and where did you create this world ?’ It cannot put the question boldly”.
“This Atman, this true ocean of Reality, this controlling and governing Self, is to be realized, to be felt, to be seen and known, in order to be one with the Infinite. This true Self or Atman is called the ‘I am.’ This true Self, the perfect ‘I,’ is beyond cause, time and space. This perfect, true Self is represented by OM. OM means ‘I am,’ and while chanting OM you have not to address yourself to somebody else. While chanting OM, think not of someone outside yourself whom you are calling. While chanting OM, you must feel yourself to be one with this true ‘I am.’ By this strong feeling, the mind is merged in the Reality. By this strong belief, by this living knowledge of the mind, the mind becomes as it were a bubble which bursts into the mighty ocean of Reality. This is the way to Realization; this strong feeling, this living knowledge on the part of the mind, laying hold of you and dehypnotizing your false self, is the way to gain Truth, to free yourself”.
“The true ‘I am’ is seen in this body and that body. The true ‘I am,’ the Governor, the Controller, the Ruler, the Infinite, the Self, is the same in the tiny atom, as it is in the huge, mighty ocean; the same in all time, space and causation. Just feel that, realize that you are that true ‘I am,’ feel that you are the infinite, indestructible Self; and what a metamorphosis, what a grand change does it bring about in your position! To think that you penetrate all space, that you are in all time, that you are the Self which supports all space, that infinite space is supported by you, held up by you. Infinite space, infinite time, infinite causation, infinite force, infinite energy, infinite power—this I am. This fact is not a matter of ignorance. It is in reality the cause of whatever I think myself to be, and it is yours always. Think this, and you are raised, you are freed from all selfish motives; believe it, and it disperses all sorrows and anxieties; you are raised above all jealousy, chaffing, worrying and disturbance. Feel that you are that ‘I am.’ The same you are. O! the true Divinity, the Atman, this sublime Power has no right to be identified with worldly relations, with worldly effects. You are that sublime Divinity, that true Reality. Know THAT, think THAT, feel THAT, and rise above all sorrows and trouble.”