(For an overview of this blog please read ‘About’.)
For a short while through 1986 and 1988, in my determination to become a sanyasin, I lived on an Ashram in a place called Virat Nagar near Pinjore in India where I practiced Yoga and studied Samkhya Philosophy. Yogananda, a practicing yogi who also lived on the Ashram, took it upon himself to try to adjust our (three Americans and myself) everyday, conditioned perception of Reality, into one that stood any chance of seeing Reality as it really is and not simply as it presented. His method was simple. He would constantly challenge us by asking, (incomprehensibly to me at the time), “Who is the doer? Sit and ask yourself, who is the doer?” and when our social habits complicated our thinking would add, “Be Natural! Just be Natural.” By this he meant be true to yourself or don’t try to be something you are not because in the end Egocentric flamboyance does not count for much and is counter-productive in any pursuit of real freedom.
Adjustment was a huge fence to jump and it took me many years, and the persistent and inexhaustible patience of my teacher, Swami Vishvatma Bawra, to realise what Yogananda meant by this cryptic statement. The way we think, is something most of us simply accept from birth as being what it is – a function of the brain or some psychic inner world, that is inseparable from Me. That the terms I and Me are grammatically distinct but conceptually interchangeable when they can be made to mean something utterly different. This is not so. The implication I received from Yogananda’s question was that there was something profound to be gained from resolving this conundrum, but what was he implying? Is there a realizable, distinction between I and Me that is not merely one for the sake of it – or to put it another way, simply a case of clever and bewildering semantics?
Yogananda was a practiced yogi so his question was not an idle one? Yoga, is a process that, when performed correctly, produces experiences that profoundly alter our perception. Yoga is not a religion nor is it ritualistic. Neither is it a discipline performed from speculative or fanciful ideas – though it often becomes something it is not when exploited by sophisticated societies as a way to keep fit! It is a process that has two aspects, Practice and Philosophy. Just as Material Science exploits the subtlest laws of materail existence transforming stardust into technology, Yoga exploits the laws of subtle existence to transform the conduit for Consciousness – us. In this way Yoga practice deepens insight and insight deepens practice. The net result of this dynamic process is the revelation of Causal Reality in Experience. The boons and insights attained through the practice of Yoga are utterly timeless and ones that can be enjoyed in silent isolation, transcending the time-bound march of social change and the trap that is modernity.
All that said, back to Yogananda’s searching question – if I am not the Doer then what is? The notion that we are not Mind appears at first to be an absurd thing to say. But in Samkhya, Mind, like our bodies, is defined as being a product of Nature, even though it transcends the physical, (as distinct from nature with a small ‘n’) and as such we can, with a little practice, watch it just as we can watch a sunset. What then becomes apparent is that Mind is not the Observer, (the witness) but rather, that the observer is something else far quieter and uncluttered that is not mind.
When we touch the world beyond our body, (with any of our senses) intellect will respond by regenerating an aberration, echoing back what it has experienced in the past. Ego/Mind is constantly being modified through our interaction with Nature and what we make it mean is determined by intellectual clarity. If we respond unmindfully to those impressions when they generate dialogue, consciously or unconsciously, they become us and we them, to be swept up in the maelstrom that is thinking (Mind). In engaging with Mind as if it were real we add to it or fuel it – going round in circles. In Yoga Mind is seen as being a projection of Ego and as such it is endless – a ghost or shadow that persists as long we persist as an individuated sentient being, unless we intervene.
When our identification with Mind becomes chronic we call it insanity and to some degree we are all insane. The benign state of this insanity is labelled Normal. Normal is the level of insanity society can live with. A kind of low grade noise that is not too intrusive and not too painful. Anything more intense we consider abnormal. Listening, (observing or witnessing) is the first stage in becoming free and sane. If we merely observe impressions, and do not engage with them, with time a distance appears between the drama and the observer and the turbulence that is Mind is seen for what it is, shadows of a past inspired by the present. Merely observed without resistance and without judgement impressions are free to pass naturally. The one thing we can be certain about is that everything in Nature changes. Ripples in the pond that is Mind die away to be ceaselessly replaced by other ripples. So long as we resist impressions, consciously or unconsciously, they endure. We resist then when we enter into the dialogue.
Contrary to how it appears Observing is the only true act of Free Will. Everything else is rooted in Natural cause and effect or the illusion of free will. Stimulus, response: stimulus, response. Nothing we decide can be in isolation. Decisions are always determined by past experience. Mind will dominate our life so long as we affirm our ingrained lifelong habit and engage with it believing its shadows to be real. When we cease this automatic response to what we think and feel; observe without imposing ‘this is good and this is bad’, our relationship with Mind radically changes. Mental content ceases to present as real and becomes just content. When performed earnestly this process has a profound effect on the quality of our intellect which in turn ‘clarifies’ through this act of observing. This is an entirely natural process available to us all. In so doing we move from a state of disintegrated confusion towards clarified integration accompanied by a profound sense of well-being. We do not necessarily become cleverer or worldlier, we simply become clearer. Linear logical (clever intelligence) gives way to Insight, (perceiving the whole or intuitive intelligence) more commonly known as Wisdom. Intelligence should not be judged by its content but rather by its quality and profundity of its perception. We can know nothing of the world and yet still have a brilliant intellect. It is a state of perception in which apparently contradictory profound truths can exist at the same time and still be true. Such a person is in yogic terms, a Seer. Swami Vishvatma Bawra was a Seer.
The past appearing in the present is an echo nothing more. Echoes die away as long as we do not continue shouting. (Resisting or engaging with Mind is shouting! Longing is shouting.) We shout because it is what we have always done. We think our Mind defines who we really are but it doesn’t because it is not who we really are. I am not my past, or what I have learned and do, or what I believe however rational it may sound or appear. I am only the observer. What we actually become through this process of disengagement (detachment) is clear vessels filled with joy. A sensation we all pursue and yet one that cannot be obtained directly through its pursuit. Personal experience becomes the proof and validation of the process; speculation is the chaos that gives way to Knowing. And all this happens simply because we are conscious, sentient beings restless for meaning and understanding.