Aspiration, Faith and Realisation

Aspiration in terms of the yogic process is a tuning of the consciousness towards the spiritual reality, and thereby shifting the focus away from the ego-personality to the divine. The aspiration directs the attention, but must be followed up with an attitude of receptivity so that the response, the action of the higher force, can come and be integrated into the being. To the extent that the desire-soul of the ego-personality remains active, the individual engages in all kinds of concerns, speculations and wishes for a particular result, and this creates enough disruption in the awareness that it frequently hinders the reception that has been asked for. We desire a specific outcome and result from the aspiration, without truly understanding the way, process and means of the divine intention in manifestation. Thus, we overlay our ego-expectations on the divine even as we aspire for a higher truth.

The human being tends to impatience and brings with him the expectation of immediate gratification of desire, and this reduces the purity and force of the aspiration. There are those who speak nowadays of the ‘law of attraction’. There is indeed a truth behind the ‘law of attraction’ but it is not exactly as described by those who ascribe to it the power to manifest all types of wealth, success and popularity! The underlying truth is that where we focus our attention, we open up a connection and a pathway for manifestation. If we remain receptive we keep that connection open and energy travels along that path.

Aspiration for the divine truth has, however, a further implication. We cannot, from our ego-viewpoint, truly understand the method and process of the divine realisation. We expect things to happen a certain way and in a certain time-frame, yet the divine purpose may be fulfilled through a longer and more circuitous route. Thus, we have to combine aspiration and receptivity with faith in the divine and the eventual outcome. It may be that the answer has in fact come, but we have failed to heed it as it did not meet our expectation or our desire!

The Mother notes: “When one aspires for something, if at the same time one knows that the aspiration will be heard and answered in the best possible way, that establishes a quietude in the being, a quietude in its vibrations; whilst if there is a doubt, an uncertainty, if one does not know what will lead one to the goal or if ever one will reach it or whether there is a way of doing so, and so on, then one gets disturbed and that usually creates a sort of little whirlwind around the being, which prevents it from receiving the real thing. Instead, if one has a quiet faith, if whilst aspiring one knows that there is no aspiration (naturally, sincere aspiration) which remains unanswered, then one is quiet. One aspires with as much fervour as possible, but does not stand in nervous agitation asking oneself why one does not get immediately what one has asked for. One knows how to wait. I have said somewhere: ‘To know how to wait is to put time on one’s side.’ That is quite true. For if one gets excited, one loses all one’s time — one loses one’s time, loses one’s energy, loses one’s movements. To be very quiet, calm, peaceful, with the faith that what is true will take place, and that if one lets it happen, it will happen so much the quicker. Then, in that peace everything goes much better.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Anxiety, pp. 44-49

The Importance of the Attitude of Trust for the Yogic Practitioner

In our world today, we tend to doubt everything, question everything, trust in nothing. We recognise how much dissembling takes place, how many illusions are placed before our eyes, and we frequently have the experience that when we trust in someone or something, we tend to later see that we have been misled or manipulated. It is one of the sicknesses pervasive in the modern world, that everything breeds mistrust in us.

Yet we also find that progress in yoga, which requires us to shift our standpoint beyond the normal physical-vital-mental framework, requires a modicum of trust, or faith, in a greater reality beyond the ‘facts’ of our modern civilisation.

How could we proceed and successfully overcome the tests and challenges, the obstacles and disruptions, if we do not have trust in the inevitability and eventuality of the next stage of evolution. We have, then, to differentiate between trust in human institutions and conceptions, and the deeper, larger trust in the universal manifestation, and the divine intention in that manifestation, of which we are a part. This level of trust, or faith, is embedded in the psychic being which has a direct relation to the universal manifestation and its truth. When we once shift our standpoint from the mental to the psychic being, we recognise that all human developments, framed by the limits of mind, life and body, are subject to breakdown, but that nevertheless, the universal creation continues to roll out its meaning and purpose.

For a yogic practitioner, the focus and tuning of the consciousness towards that universal creation is essential, as otherwise, we become paralyzed in doubt and insecurity. Doubt focuses the mind on the frailty of what already exists, while the yoga must tune itself into the manifestation that is preparing to be birthed.

The Mother observes: “Children when left to themselves and not deformed by older people have such a great trust that all will be well! For example, when they have a small accident, they never think that this is going to be something serious: they are spontaneously convinced that it will soon be over, and this helps so powerfully in putting an end to it.”

“If the trust is there, spontaneous, candid, unquestioning, it works better than anything else, and the results are marvelous. It is with the contradictions and doubts of the mind that one spoils everything, with this kind of notion which comes when one is in difficulties: ‘Oh, it is impossible! I shall never manage it. And if this is going to be aggravated, if this condition I am in, which I don’t want, is going to grow still worse, if I continue to slide down farther and farther, if, if, if, if…’ like that, and one builds a wall between oneself and the force one wants to receive. The psychic being has this trust, has it wonderfully, without a shadow, without an argument, without a contradiction. And when it is like that, there is not a prayer which does not get an answer, no aspiration which is not realised.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Anxiety, pp. 44-49

Comparing Thought and Intuition as Problem-Solving Methodologies

The West, in particular, believes in the power of thought to solve problems. The educational system focuses its attention on analysis and categorization, and eventually adds the precepts of logical thought as a methodology to work through problems step by step. The scientific method, as it is called, tests a hypothesis by setting up experiments and systematically eliminating options that do not fit, until a conclusion is reached that fits the facts to the hypothesis. The systems of logic follow a strict line of development forcing a ‘solution’ at the end of the process. The limitation of this system is that everything is framed within the parameters of the logical intellect. Thus, eventually problems are unable to be solved when they involve complex variables, sometimes in conflict with one another, within the mental realm. At some point the only solution lies in exceeding the limits of the mind and entering into a different frame of consciousness that is not bound by mental logic.

If we are looking for the development of a new form of consciousness, the next phase in the evolutionary cycle, we must eventually recognize that the mind can neither fully understand nor judge the functioning of that next evolutionary phase. In fact, the mind must fall into a state of silent receptivity if a new and more powerful movement of consciousness is to manifest.

We find, if we examine the statements of individuals who are recognised as leading seers, thinkers, and developers, people such as Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, and Sri Aurobindo, that they do not rely on the logical intellect to gain insight into the nature of reality and the developments that are possible. They speak of a process of intuition that takes the place of logical thought through cultivation of silence and receptivity. The intuitive process that represents the first openings to a higher formation of consciousness can be seen operative in such individuals who are hailed as geniuses in today’s world, simply because they already have insight and the power to access these higher ranges, as forerunners for the rest of humanity. The Mother explains that development in this direction is possible for virtually anyone who is willing to move beyond the stumbling limits of the mental process.

Albert Einstein described his ‘process’:: “I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the Truth comes to me.” Einstein has been recognised for his unique insight into the physical universe. He was clearly not limited by the framework of the mental structures that keep us hemmed into pre-digested ideas and solutions. Using a similar process, it is possible to identify and implement new ways of looking at problems we face, and thereby solving issues that have very few, if any, favorable outcomes on the level of thought and logical reasoning process.

The Mother writes: “To learn to be quiet and silent… When you have a problem to solve, instead of turning over in your head all the possibilities, all the consequences, all the possible things one should or should not do, if you remain quiet with an aspiration for goodwill, if possible a need for goodwill, the solution comes very quickly. And as you are silent you are able to hear it.”

“When you are caught in a difficulty, try this method: instead of becoming agitated, turning over all the ideas and actively seeking solutions, of worrying, fretting, running here and there inside your head — I don’t mean externally, for externally you probably have enough common sense not to do that! but inside, in your head — remain quiet. And according to your nature, with ardour or peace, with intensity or widening or with all these together, implore the Light and wait for it to come.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Anxiety, pp. 44-49

Dealing with Difficulties and Setbacks Along the Way

We tend to judge things, events, opportunities, setbacks, obstacles and directions from the standpoint of our individual ego-personality. When we take up a spiritual path, we expect that our efforts, and our devotion to the guide or master in whom we rely, will smooth the path in front of us and make for a straight, steady development in our yogic pursuits.

What actually occurs, however, is rarely, if ever, a straight undeviating progress. There are twists and turns. Periods of difficulty come along, unexpected obstructions, whether internal or external, are raised up, and we struggle with, on one side, the expectation of a glide-path to yogic success and, on the other side, the reality of the issues we are facing.

The methods of Nature, the universal creation, are, however, not so simple or straightforward. We may make strong progress in one direction, which opens up an area of residual weakness that needs to be addressed before further progress can occur. At that point, the forward momentum appears to stop while we have to go back and deal with things we thought we had long left behind. The next round of upward or forward movement then can begin, with a more solid foundation, on what looks like a cyclical process rather than a direct process.

The evolution of consciousness within the world constituted by Matter, Life and Mind involves sorting out and reconciling somewhat different goals, objectives and operative principles at work within each of the existing stages, and in their interaction with one another. Bringing a next phase to bear involves not only shifting to the new standpoint but integrating its action within the framework of what already exists, and working out the adjustments that those earlier stages must be prepared to accept in order to fully manifest. The advent, for instance, of the supramental action on earth necessitates changes in the texture and capability of response of mind, life and matter. We can see already how slowly the changes take place, and with how much difficulty when we try to adjust anything on these lower planes. This is why endurance, patience, persistence and equanimity are required characteristics for the yogic practitioner who intends to participate in this evolutionary development. There is a proverb that encapsulates much of the attitude the seeker should have in dealing with obstacles and resistances: ‘When life gives you lemons, then make lemonade.’ Everything that occurs, whether we judge these things to be “good” or “bad” are elements in the evolutionary sequence and the need to address change at all levels, not just at the higher planes of existence.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “In the play of the cosmic forces, the will in the cosmos — as one might say — does not always work apparently in favour of a smooth and direct line for the work or the sadhana; it often brings in what seem to be upheavals, sudden turns which break or deflect the line, opposing or upsetting circumstances or perplexing departures from what had been temporarily settled or established. The one thing is to preserve equanimity and make an opportunity and means of progress out of all that happens in the course of the life and the sadhana. There is a higher secret Will transcendent behind the play and will of the cosmic forces — a play which is always a mixture of things favourable and things adverse — and it is that Will which one must wait upon and have faith in; but you must not expect to be able always to understand its workings. The mind wants this or that to be done, the line once taken to be maintained, but what the mind wants is not at all always what is intended in a larger purpose. One has to follow indeed a fixed central aim in the sadhana and not deviate from it, but not to build on outward circumstances, conditions, etc., as if they were fundamental things.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Anxiety, pp. 44-49

Finding a Solution that Provides Peace Without Sacrificing Progress in the Universal Manifestation

If the drive towards progress is fueled by dissatisfaction and anxiety felt by the individual, we are left with the concern that achieving peace must come at the cost of giving up the active life and the development of consciousness in the world. We either have to sink back to the level of the animal who does not worry about the past or the future, and who lives in a relatively static consciousness, or find a way to escape the world, through renunciation and entering into a form of trance state based in the highest, but not attempting to modify or update the outer consciousness. Both of these methods, however, leave the drive embedded in the very essence of the human soul unfulfilled and thus, cannot be the complete solution to carrying out the significance of our existence.

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother propose a different solution. All of the above noted attempts to achieve peace are rooted in the ego-consciousness. They propose shifting the standpoint of consciousness to a higher level, aligned with the supreme consciousness that manifests the universal creation, and from that standpoint, peace comes from an absolute trust and faith in that creation and the role the individual is intended to play in carrying out the manifestation. Once the burden of action is shifted from the ego to the universal, there is no longer the pressure, nor any cause for anxiety. Thus, peace can be achieved in the consciousness of the individual without abandoning the drive towards the evolution of consciousness inherent in the human soul.

The Mother observes: “That is why all spiritual disciplines begin with the necessity of surrendering all responsibility and relying on a higher principle. Otherwise peace is impossible. … And yet, consciousness has been given to man so that he can progress, can discover what he doesn’t know, develop into what he has not yet become; and so it may be said that there is a higher state than that of an immobile and static peace: it is a trust total enough for one to keep the will to progress, to preserve the effort for progress while ridding it of all anxiety, all care for results and consequences. This is one step ahead of the methods which may be called ‘quietist’, which are founded on the rejection of all activity and a plunging into an immobility and inner silence, which forsake all life because it has been suddenly felt that without peace one can’t have any inner realisation and, quite naturally, one thought that one couldn’t have peace so long as one was living in outer conditions, in the state of anxiety in which problems are set and cannot be solved, for one does not have the knowledge to do so.”

“The next step is to face the problem, but with the calm and certitude of an absolute trust in the supreme Power which knows, and can make you act. And then, instead of abandoning action, one can act in a higher peace that is strong and dynamic. … This is what could be called a new aspect of the divine intervention in life, a new form of intervention of the divine forces in existence, a new aspect of spiritual realisation.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Anxiety, pp. 44-49

The Human Dilemma: the Underlying Cause of Anxiety

Being human is uncomfortable. We do not have the innocence of living that we find in the animal kingdom. We struggle with the pressure of growing knowledge about ourselves and our world, and an awareness of past, present and future that haunts us all the time. For many, this pressure is so unbearable that they choose to try to obliterate the awareness through various forms of dissipation, self-medication with alcohol or drugs, or through an attempt to regain the animal innocence by living in the present, care-free and oblivious, which, of course, is an illusion.

There is however a deeper significance to the dissatisfaction of humanity, and the anxiety that arises. Those that are satisfied generally remain fixed in their ‘status quo’. The force for development, progress and change occurs through the impetus of dissatisfaction with the current state of things. Thus, humanity is considered to be transitional and evolutionary in principle, and the dissatisfaction and anxiety that accompanies it represents the force that brings about evolutionary growth. It is said in the traditional scriptures that even the Gods, if they wish to make evolutionary progress, must take a human birth! The Gods are static beings at a higher vibrational level, to be sure, just as animals are static beings, at a lower vibrational level, than the human incarnation.

The Mother writes: “Of course, it is impossible for man to fall back to the level of the animal and lose the consciousness he has acquired; therefore, for him there is only one means, one way to get out of this condition he is in, which I call a miserable one, and to emerge into a higher state where worry is replaced by a trusting surrender and the certitude of a luminous culmination — this way is to change the consciousness.”

“Truly speaking there is no condition more miserable than being responsible for an existence to which one doesn’t have the key, that is, of which one doesn’t have the threads that can guide and solve the problems. The animal sets itself no problems: it just lives. Its instinct drives it, it relies on a collective consciousness which has an innate knowledge and is higher than itself, but it is automatic, spontaneous, it has no need to will something and make an effort to bring it about, it is quite naturally like that, and as it is not responsible for its life, it does not worry. With man is born the sense of having to depend on himself, and as he does not have the necessary knowledge the result is a perpetual torment. This torment can come to an end only with a total surrender to a higher consciousness than his own to which he can totally entrust himself, hand over his worries and leave the care of guiding his life and organising everything.”

“How can a problem be solved when one doesn’t have the necessary knowledge? And the unfortunate thing is that man believes that he has to resolve all the problems of his life, and he does not have the knowledge needed to do it. That is the source, the origin of all his troubles — that perpetual question, ‘What should I do? …’ which is followed by another one still more acute, ‘What is going to happen?’ and at the same time, more or less, the inability to answer.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Anxiety, pp. 44-49

Man: the Being Who Worries

Anxiety arises when we extrapolate from a current circumstance or event to what we anticipate, imagine or speculate will follow. Some of this speculation is logical, following what we know of the method of Nature and the rollout of events through Time, although there is no absolute certainty about the logical result as there are too many unseen and unknown factors which can intervene at any moment. For example, we are driving a short distance on an errand and we expect to arrive in a few minutes’ time with no issues arising. However, we cannot know that a water line break will close the road ahead of us, that we will become mired in traffic that does not move, and that as a result we will miss our intended destination that day. The power of imagination, even if it is initially based on some logical inferential process, is just as likely to be inaccurate as accurate.

The animal kingdom, as far as we can tell, lives in the present time, experiencing life and not worrying about ‘what if’ scenarios. The human individual actually attends to the present with an ever-present burden of the past and an ever-present sense of the future. As a result, we carry into the present, the concerns, issues and fears that developed in the past, as well as the anxiety about what the future will hold. We worry about things that happened in the past even though we cannot go back and change them, in addition to worrying about what may happen in the future. This is what makes the human individual suffer far more intensely than our animal brethren.

As long as we remain rooted in this mental realm of speculative imagination of the future that will unroll before us, there is no simple solution. The developed mental consciousness is locked into this power and gains both its benefits and its drawbacks and limitations.

Sri Aurobindo notes that the mental consciousness, and the human being embodying the mental consciousness, represents a transitional phase in the evolution of consciousness. These powers brought progress and some real benefits with them, but we now experience with great intensity the negative aspects and limiting factors, indicating that it is time to move to a new level and type of consciousness which is not so wrapped up in the worry of the ego-personality about its own future. The next phase of evolution Sri Aurobindo has named the supramental consciousness, which grasps the movement of time as a unified whole, and participates in the universal manifestation on a conscious and fully engaged level. At this level, there is no cause for either speculation or worry.

This does not mean that circumstances or events may not block the way forward, or create obstacles to overcome; however, the awareness of the eventual conclusion and the need for patience and persistence in the effort overcomes the fear of failure and the worry about the future that accompanies everything in the human world.

The Mother notes: “It is obvious that what especially characterises man is this mental capacity of watching himself live. The animal lives spontaneously, automatically, and if it watches itself live, it must be to a very minute and insignificant degree, and that is why it is peaceful and does not worry. Even if an animal is suffering because of an accident or an illness, this suffering is reduced to a minimum by the fact that it does not observe it, does not project it in its consciousness and into the future, does not imagine things about its illness or its accident.”

“With man there has begun this perpetual worrying about what is going to happen, and this worry is the principal, if not the sole cause of his torment. With this objectivising consciousness there has begun anxiety, painful imaginations, worry, torment, anticipation of future catastrophes, with the result that most men — and not the least conscious, the most conscious — live in perpetual torment. Man is too conscious to be indifferent, he is not conscious enough to know what will happen. Truly it could be said without fear of making a mistake that of all earth’s creatures he is the most miserable. The human being is used to being like that because it is an atavistic state which he has inherited from his ancestors, but it is truly a miserable condition. And it is only with this spiritual capacity of rising to a higher level and replacing the animal’s consciousness by a spiritual super-consciousness that there comes into the being not only the capacity to see the goal of existence and to foresee the culmination of the effort but also a clear-sighted trust in a higher spiritual power to which one can surrender one’s whole being, entrust oneself, give the responsibility for one’s life and future and so abandon all worries.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Anxiety, pp. 44-49

The Third Step in the Mental Discipline: Control of Thoughts

The inner control of thoughts is a further development once the poise of the witness consciousness has been attained. As the seeker observes the thoughts, he can also determine their effect in the being, and see if they lead to uplifting, widening, and harmonizing results, or whether they shrink the being back down into the ego-consciousness with all of its turmoil, disruptions and limitations. For the yogic practitioner the issue is not one of an artificial external moral or ethical code, but rather, the consciousness-impact of the thoughts that are permitted to act within the being.

Sri Aurobindo related the way he was introduced to the idea of observing and rejecting the thoughts that tried to enter, and indicated that at the end of 3 days he was able to achieve silence of the mind, which in turn opened up the receptivity to higher states of receptivity and awareness. He was asked to see that the thoughts came from outside and as they tried to enter, he should reject them. This somewhat strenuous approach is not suited for everyone, and most teachers recommend simply observing without reacting and letting them glide through without being grabbed on and followed. Either way, the active or the passive means, can lead to the end result of bringing quiet, silent receptivity to the mind. The Mother recommends an approach here in her discussion of the Dhammapada verses relating to the achievement of a state of happiness rather than suffering.

In the book Commentaries on the Dhammapada, The Mother provides insight into a number of verses from this classical Buddhist text. The Dhammapada states: ” ‘He has insulted me, he has beaten me, he has humiliated me, he has robbed me.‘ Those who do not nourish thoughts such as these foster no hatred.”

The Mother observes: “This is the counterpart of what we read the other day. But note that this concerns only thoughts that generate resentment. It is because rancour, along with jealousy, is one of the most widespread causes of human misery. … But how to avoid rancour? A large and generous heart is certainly the best means, but that is not within the reach of all. Controlling one’s thought may be of more general use.”

“Thought-control is the third step of our mental discipline. Once the enlightened judge of our consciousness has distinguished between useful and harmful thoughts, the inner guard will come and allow to pass only approved thoughts, strictly refusing admission to all undesirable elements. … With a commanding gesture the guard will refuse entry to every bad thought and push it back as far as possible. … It is this movement of admission and refusal that we call thought-control and this will be the subject of our meditation tonight.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Unruly and Perturbing Thoughts, pp. 35-43

Discernment of Good and Bad Thoughts

When we initially reflect on “what is a good thought” and “what is a bad thought”, the first ideas that arise almost inevitably harken back to whatever cultural, moral or ethical code prevails within the society of the time, whether this is based on religion or developed cultural understandings and taboos. This, however, is not the sense in which either the Dhammapada, or the Mother commenting on the Dhammapada, looks at the question of “good” or “bad” thoughts. In many cases, the dictates of the social norm in a particular society, group or religion are quite limited, and vary from one time or place to another.

A deeper understanding of “good” and “bad” thoughts comes from deep reflection on the impact upon the consciousness that results. Good thoughts are those that bring about serenity, wideness, and universality, that are uplifting and move the individual beyond the limits of the desire-soul and the ego-personality, so that consciousness can grow, and concepts such as oneness and compassion can uplift the soul. Bad thoughts are those that draw the individual in upon himself, weaken the will, breed animosity and increase the force of desire, and thereby hold the individual back in the evolutionary growth of consciousness.

In the book Commentaries on the Dhammapada, The Mother provides insight into a number of verses from this classical Buddhist text. The Dhammapada states: ” ‘He has insulted me, he has beaten me, he has humiliated me, he has robbed me.‘ Those who nourish thoughts such as these never appease their hatred.”

The Mother writes: “The Dhammapada tells us first of all that bad thoughts bring about suffering and good thoughts bring about happiness. Now it gives examples of what bad thoughts are and tells us how to avoid suffering. Here is the first example, I repeat: ‘He has insulted me, he has beaten me, he has humiliated me, he has robbed me’; and it adds: ‘Those who nourish thoughts such as these never appease their hatred.’ “

“We have begun our mental discipline, basing ourselves on the successive stages of mental development and we have seen that this discipline consists of four consecutive movements, which we have described in this way, as you surely remember: to observe, to watch over, to control and to master; and in the course of the last lesson we have learnt — I hope — to separate ourselves from our thoughts so as to be able to observe them as an attentive spectator.”

“Today we have to learn how to watch over these thoughts. First you look at them and then you watch over them. Learn to look at them as an enlightened judge so that you may distinguish between the good and the bad, between thoughts that are useful and those that are harmful, between constructive thoughts that lead to victory and defeatist thoughts which turn us away from it. It is this power of discernment that we must acquire now; that will be the subject of our meditation tonight.”

“As I have told you, the Dhammapada will give us examples, but examples are only examples. We must ourselves learn how to distinguish thoughts that are good from those that are not, and for that you must observe, as I have said, like an enlightened judge — that is to say, as impartially as possible; it is one of the most indispensable conditions.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Unruly and Perturbing Thoughts, pp. 35-43

The Need and Method for Observing One’s Thoughts

Avoidance of suffering may be considered as a ‘negative’ status. Achievement of happiness is the positive pole of this continuum. Both states are rooted in the mind and the standpoint that the individual takes. When the scriptures speak of “evil thoughts” or “purified thoughts” this is not directly intended to be a moral judgment; rather it is a statement of the energetic source and impact of the thoughts that are entertained and held in the mind. Those that are based in the ego-personality and the desire-soul, that bring disturbance, enhance suffering and cause pain are ‘evil’ thoughts. Those that are serene, widening and uplifting, and that are based in the universal consciousness are considered to be ‘purified’ thoughts. The one state brings suffering, the other brings happiness. Neither of these states is dependent on the outer circumstances, but on the inward response to those circumstances.

The key, therefore, to achieving happiness is in obtaining mastery over one’s thoughts, with the first step being the observation of those thoughts.

In the book Commentaries on the Dhammapada, The Mother provides insight into a number of verses from this classical Buddhist text. The Dhammapada states: “Mind predominates. Everything proceeds from mind. In all things the primordial element is mind. If a man speaks or acts with a purified mind, happiness accompanies him as closely as his inseparable shadow.”

The Mother notes: “This is the counterpart of what we read last time. The Dhammapada contrasts a purified mind with an evil mind. We have already said that there are four successive stages for the purification of the mind. A purified mind is naturally a mind that does not admit any wrong thought, and we have seen that the complete mastery of thought which is required to gain this result is the last achievement in the four stages I have spoken of. The first is: to observe one’s mind.”

“Do not believe that it is such an easy thing, for to observe your thoughts, you must first of all separate yourself from them. In the ordinary state, the ordinary man does not distinguish himself from his thoughts. He does not even know that he thinks. He thinks by habit. And if he is asked all of a sudden, ‘What are you thinking of?’, he knows nothing about it. That is to say, ninety-five times out of a hundred he will answer, ‘I do not know.’ There is a complete identification between the movement of thought and the consciousness of the being.”

“To observe the thought, the first movement then is to step back and look at it, to separate yourself from your thoughts so that the movement of the consciousness and that of thought may not be confused. Thus when we say that one must observe one’s thoughts, do not believe that it is simple; it is the first step, I suggest that this evening in our meditation we take up this first exercise which consists in standing back from one’s thought and looking at it.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Unruly and Perturbing Thoughts, pp. 35-43