The Mind as a Helper, the Mind as an Obstacle for Spiritual Development

If we view the vast array of methods recommended by spiritual paths of the world, we find that many of them utilize various forms of mental focus or concentration in order to achieve specific results along the way. Tibetan yoga, for instance, has intensive visualisation techniques along with concentrations of various sorts and meditation. Many paths recommend use of various prayers or mantras formulated in the mind to guide the awareness in the proper direction. A large number of paths recommend reading and contemplation on the truths set forth in their respective scriptural texts. We can deduce from this review that harnessing the power of the mind in the spiritual quest can be of extreme value and importance for the seeker along the way.

The Kena Upanishad reminds us, however, that the power of the mind is not, in and of itself sufficient to experience and fully comprehend the reality and truth of existence. There is yet a power, and an experience of that power, that lies beyond the mind.

Just as it is a positive force at certain stages of the spiritual practice, the mind can become an obstacle itself when it tries to assert its ignorance to limit or deny the spiritual truths the being experiences. But there are also more subtle concerns about the influence of the mind for which the seeker must be watchful. The mind-set and attitude with which one approaches anything has a distinct influence on how things are perceived. Our minds tend to ‘fill in’ data and interpretations in any event or experience. Thus, we substitute mental calculation and predispositions for an actual understanding of the deeper reality.

The Mother observes: “What I mean is that every definite mental formation always gives a particular colouring to the experience. As for example, with all people brought up in a certain religion their experiences will always be coloured by this religion; and in fact, to reach the very source of the thing one must free oneself from the external formation.”

“But there is a kind of reading which awakens in you an interest in the thing and can help you in the first seekings. Usually, even if one has had experiences one needs a contact of thought or idea with the thing so that the effort may be crystallized more consciously. But the more one knows, the more one must be absolutely sincere in his experience, that is, he must not use the formative power of his mind to imagine and so create the experience in himself. From the point of view of orientation it can be useful: but from the point of view of the experience, it takes away from it its dynamic value, it has not the intensity of an experience which comes because the moral and spiritual conditions necessary for it to occur have been fulfilled. There is the whole mental conditioning which is added and which takes away something of the spontaneity. All this is a matter of proportion. Each one must find the exact amount he needs, how much of reading, how much meditation, how much concentration, how much… It is different for each one.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pp. 50-51


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