Methods for Quieting the Activity of the Mechanical Mind

The mind seems always to be busy, and we seem to have a constant inner commentary about sensations, perceptions, memories, anticipated activities, hopes and dreams, and worries about situations we need to address. Then there are the drives and cravings such as hunger, thirst, or sensations of discomfort, pain or desire. The mind remains constantly busy and there seems to be no way out. When we sit for meditation, we find it almost impossible to get rid of all of this activity, and in fact, simply because we are sitting quietly and trying to still the mind, we become much more aware of the activity than when we are involved in our constant round of activities externally.

Sri Aurobindo treats this as a more or less mechanical action of the mind and provides us various tools to address this. A primary aid is the separation of the witness-consciousness from the active nature. As we shift to this new standpoint, we begin to experience the mechanical action of the mind as something external to our awareness, and thus, it becomes easier to either disregard it or even reject it.

It is important, however, to exercise patience. Any impatience represents the stirring of rajasic desire which has the opposite effect and tends to disturb the mind rather than quiet it. The long habit of the mechanical mind is not something that is resolved in a day.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The mind is always in activity, but we do not observe fully what it is doing, but allow ourselves to be carried away in the stream of continual thinking. When we try to concentrate, this stream of self-made mechanical thinking becomes prominent to our observation. It is the first normal obstacle (the other is sleep during meditation) to the effort for yoga.”

“The best thing to do is to realise that the thought-flow is not yourself, it is not you who are thinking, but thought that is going on in the mind. It is Prakriti with its thought-energy that is raising all this whirl of thought in you, imposing it on the Purusha. You as the Purusha must stand back as the witness observing the action, but refusing to identify yourself with it. The next thing is to exercise a control and reject the thoughts — though sometimes by the very act of detachment the thought-habit falls away or diminishes during the meditation and there is a sufficient silence or at any rate a quietude which makes it easy to reject the thoughts that come and fix oneself on the object of meditation. If one becomes aware of the thoughts as coming from outside, from the universal Nature, then one can throw them out before they reach the mind; in that way the mind finally falls silent. If neither of these things happens, a persistent practice of rejection becomes necessary — there should be no struggle or wrestling with the thought, but only a quiet self-separation and refusal. Success does not come at first, but if consent is constantly withheld, the mechanical whirl eventually ceases and begins to die away and one can then have at will an inner quietude or silence.”

“It should be noted that the result of the yogic processes is not, except in rare cases, immediate and one must apply the will-patience till they give a result which is sometimes long in coming if there is much resistance in the outer nature.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter V Growth of Consciousness, Means and Methods, pp. 92-93


The Value of Mental Preparation for the Practice of the Integral Yoga

The mind can be a powerful tool for spiritual growth, or it can become an obstacle under certain circumstances. Many devotees take the position that aspiration, devotion, surrender to the Divine is the only way forward. For those individuals that may indeed be true. Not everyone is capable of the kind of single focused love and surrender required to tread the path of devotion, where the individuality is consumed in the love for and surrender to the Divine.

Others find that the mind, as the most highly developed level of consciousness manifesting more generally, provides a tool for focusing the aspiration, concentrating the force and using its powers of application in detail to carry the higher force that is in the process of manifesting into the rest of the being.

At some point, regardless of the path one follows, the questions of action and reaction, the vital response to life situations and physical needs and cravings come into focus for the seeker and it is at this stage that a certain amount of mental preparation can be extraordinarily beneficial. Many people find that they need to rely heavily on the power of the mind to tune the awareness and sort out the distractions, obstructions and opposing forces that are at work to restrict the progress.

At present your experiences are on the mental plane….” Sri Aurobindo

A disciple asks: “What does ‘on the mental plane’ mean?”

The Mother responds: “Well, these are experiences concerning thought, mental activity, the understanding of things, the observation of things, thought, deduction, reasoning, the contact with teaching, knowledge, the result of this knowledge on your understanding — all these things which are purely mental. And in fact one should always begin with that.”

“If one has vital experiences — for example, visions — certain vital experiences without having a sufficient mental preparation, this may result in destroying one’s balance and, in any case, one understands nothing of what is happening and it is practically useless, if not harmful. On the other hand, if to begin with, one has developed his understanding, has studied, has understood and knows the reasons for things, and the goal of yoga, for instance, and if one has studied the methods of attaining it — indeed, the whole mental approach to the subject — then, when an experience comes one has a chance of being able to understand what it is; otherwise one understands nothing. A sufficient mental preparation is needed — if not a complete one at least a sufficient one — to be able to understand a little the experiences which come.”

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

Aids in Attaining Spiritual Realisation: the Scripture and the Guru

A written scripture or teaching may help direct the focus of the mind and the heart toward the realisation to be gained. No book, however, can replace the experience, and an intellectual understanding does not constitute spiritual knowledge. Spiritual experience comes through receptivity to the vibratory pattern to be evoked in the being. The scripture, the ‘word’, helps to tune the consciousness toward the right vibratory pattern. It is then necessary for the individual to both accept the pattern and learn how to hold it steady in the being as it works to transform the mind, the life-energy and even the body.

Thus, a specific doctrine, a specific scripture is not required to have the spiritual opening and experience. What is needed is an implementation of whichever scripture one is following in one’s own life. The difficulties involved in doing this on one’s own, with the potential for misunderstanding, misapplication, and misdirection are enormous, and thus, the aid of an experienced guide, or Guru is frequently needed to aid in this tuning process. The ability of the teacher to receive and hold the vibratory pattern is a real aid to the individual seeker. Instruction in this sense is not necessarily, or at least not primarily intellectual, but consists of the creation of an atmosphere that surrounds, supports and guides the seeker.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Ordinarily, the Word from without, representative of the Divine, is needed as an aid in the work of self-unfolding; and it may be either a word from the past or the more powerful word of the living Guru. In some cases this representative word is only taken as a sort of excuse for the inner power to awaken and manifest; it is, as it were, a concession of the omnipotent and omniscient Divine to the generality of a law that governs Nature. Thus it is said in the Upanishads of Krishna, son of Devaki, that he received a word of the Rishi Ghora and had the knowledge. So Ramakrishna, having attained by his own internal effort the central illumination, accepted several teachers in the different paths of Yoga, but always showed in the manner and swiftness of his realisation that this acceptance was a concession to the general rule by which effective knowledge must be received as by a disciple from a Guru.”

“But usually the representative influence occupies a much larger place in the life of the Sadhaka. If the Yoga is guided by a received written Shastra, — some Word from the past which embodies the experience of former Yogins, — it may be practiced either by personal effort alone or with the aid of a Guru. The spiritual knowledge is then gained through meditation on the truths that are taught and it is made living and conscious by their realisation in the personal experience; the Yoga proceeds by the results of prescribed methods taught in a Scripture or a tradition and reinforced and illumined by the instructions of the Master. This is a narrower practice, but safe and effective within its limits, because it follows a well-beaten track to a long familiar goal.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pp. 46-47

Opening to a New Consciousness Through the Revealed Word

A seed in the plant kingdom remains inert and non-developing until such time as it is placed in the proper conditions and pressure from outside, in the form of heat or moisture primarily, is exerted upon it. A corollary process takes place in the animal kingdom, of course. Once the encoding contained within the seed is activated by the external means, and assuming it is located in a suitable environment for its development, including both ambient conditions and suitable nourishment, the involved pattern manifests and takes on its pre-determined form.

The awakening of a new deeper consciousness follows a similar process. The fertile ground is the prepared human being, receptive and ready to open up in new ways. The ‘word’ is the vibration that energizes the process and opens the consciousness to new insights, patterns and forces.

Sri Aurobindo notes; “The usual agency of this revealing is the Word, the thing heard (sruta). The Word may come to us from within; it may come to us from without. But in either case, it is only an agency for setting the hidden knowledge to work. The word within may be the utterance of the inmost soul in us which is always open to the Divine or it may be the word of the secret and universal Teacher who is seated in the hearts of all. There are rare cases in which none other is needed, for all the rest of the Yoga is an unfolding under that constant touch and guidance; the lotus of the knowledge discloses itself from within by the power of irradiating effulgence which proceeds from the Dweller in the lotus of the heart. Great indeed, but few are those to whom self-knowledge from within is thus sufficient and who do not need to pass under the dominant influence of a written book or a living teacher.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pg. 46

All Knowledge Is Within, Awaiting the Time and Circumstance to Manifest in Our External Being

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato described the method of teaching utilized by Socrates, known today as the “Socratic method”. Socrates understood that education was not the process of stuffing knowledge into an individual, but rather, as the root of the word ‘education’ implies, a drawing out of the knowledge already held within. He propounded a series of questions intended to provoke the person to express that knowledge and formalize it thereby in their external being.

We observe in the animal kingdom the precise knowledge to which we apply the term ‘instinct’. This is clearly a detailed knowledge that is ‘involved’ within the being and which expresses itself when the conditions for it are ripe. We also see that the seed contains the knowledge that grows into the being encoded in that seed, and in some cases, this encoding is extremely detailed, such as the formation and activities of the human being and all the complex chemical, electrical-nervous, and organ-system operations that make up the human being.

All of these things exemplify the fact that knowledge is embedded, or in Sri Aurobindo’s terminology, ‘involved’ within the being and needs only the right conditions and timing to express itself, or ‘evolve’. What we are, what we are meant to become, what our destiny as a species, and as individual representatives of the species, are all things which are hidden within awaiting the right time to overtly manifest and make themselves known to our external being.

The great sages of the world counsel ‘know thyself’ as the means to learning. The sages of the Upanishads remind us that “Thou art That” and counsel the seeker to find the deepest knowledge within.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Nothing can be taught to the mind which is not already concealed as potential knowledge in the unfolding soul of the creature. So also all perfection of which the outer man is capable, is only a realising of the eternal perfection of the Spirit within him. We know the Divine and become the Divine, because we are That already in our secret nature. All teaching is a revealing, all becoming is an unfolding. Self-attainment is the secret; self-knowledge and an increasing consciousness are the means and the process.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pp. 45-46

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

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